Bristol Bus Boycott, 1963

Bristol Bus Boycott, 1963

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The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company
Bristol Omnibus Company
The Bristol Omnibus Company is the former name of the dominant bus operator in Bristol, one of the oldest bus companies in the United Kingdom. The company once ran buses over a wide area of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire and neighbouring counties. The name was in operational use until 1985...

 to employ Black or Asian bus crews in Bristol
Bristol
Bristol is a city, unitary authority area and ceremonial county in South West England, with an estimated population of 433,100 for the unitary authority in 2009, and a surrounding Larger Urban Zone with an estimated 1,070,000 residents in 2007...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

. In common with other British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 cities there was widespread discrimination in housing and employment at that time against "coloureds." Led by youth worker Paul Stephenson
Paul Stephenson (civil rights campaigner)
Paul Stephenson, born Rochford, Essex , is a community worker, activist and long time campaigner for civil rights for the British African-Caribbean community in Bristol. As a young social worker, in 1963 Stephenson led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company, protesting against its refusal to...

 and the West Indian Development Council, the boycott
Boycott
A boycott is an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for political reasons...

 of the company's buses by Bristolians lasted for four months until the company backed down and overturned the colour bar
Racial segregation
Racial segregation is the separation of humans into racial groups in daily life. It may apply to activities such as eating in a restaurant, drinking from a water fountain, using a public toilet, attending school, going to the movies, or in the rental or purchase of a home...

.

The boycott drew national attention to racial discrimination in Britain and the campaign was supported by national politicians, with interventions being made by church groups and the High Commissioner
High Commissioner (Commonwealth)
In the Commonwealth of Nations, a High Commissioner is the senior diplomat in charge of the diplomatic mission of one Commonwealth government to another.-History:...

 for Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles...

. The Bristol Bus Boycott was considered by some to have been influential in the passing of the Race Relations Act 1965
Race Relations Act 1965
The Race Relations Act 1965 was the first legislation in the United Kingdom to address racial discrimination.The Act outlawed discrimination on the "grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins" in public places....

 which made "racial discrimination unlawful in public places" and the Race Relations Act 1968
Race Relations Act 1968
The Race Relations Act 1968 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom making it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins. It also created the Community Relations Commission to promote 'harmonious...

, which extended the provisions to employment and housing.

Background


Bristol in the early 1960s had an estimated 3,000 residents of West Indian origin, some who had served in the armed forces during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, some who had emigrated to Britain more recently. A large number of them lived in the area around City Road, St Pauls, Bristol
St Pauls, Bristol
St Pauls is an inner suburb of Bristol, England, situated just north east of the city centre and west of the M32. It is bounded by the A38, the B4051 and the A4032 roads...

. They suffered discrimination in housing and employment and some encountered violence from teddy boy
Teddy Boy
The British Teddy Boy subculture is typified by young men wearing clothes that were partly inspired by the styles worn by dandies in the Edwardian period, styles which Savile Row tailors had attempted to re-introduce in Britain after World War II...

 gangs of white youths. This community set up their own churches and associations, including the West Indian Association, which began to act as a representative body.

One of their foremost grievances was the colour bar operated by the Bristol Omnibus Company, which was a nationalised
Nationalization
Nationalisation, also spelled nationalization, is the process of taking an industry or assets into government ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization usually refers to private assets, but may also mean assets owned by lower levels of government, such as municipalities, being...

 company owned by the British Government since 1950, and operated through the Transport Holding Company
Transport Holding Company
The Transport Holding Company was a British Government owned company created by the Transport Act 1962 to administer a range of state-owned transport, travel and engineering companies that were previously managed by the British Transport Commission ; it came into existence on 1 January...

. Although there was a reported labour shortage on the buses, black prospective employees were refused work as bus crews, although they were employed in workshops and canteens. The Bristol Evening Post
Bristol Evening Post
The Bristol Evening Post is a newspaper covering news in the city of Bristol, including stories from the whole of Greater Bristol, Northern Somerset and South Gloucestershire....

and the Western Daily Press
Western Daily Press
The Western Daily Press is a regional newspaper covering parts of South West England , mainly Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset as well as the metropolitan areas of Bath and North East Somerset and the Bristol area. It is published Monday to Saturday in Bristol, UK...

both ran series on the colour bar, which was blamed by company management on the Transport and General Workers' Union
Transport and General Workers' Union
The Transport and General Workers' Union, also known as the TGWU and the T&G, was one of the largest general trade unions in the United Kingdom and Ireland - where it was known as the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union - with 900,000 members...

 (TGWU), which represented bus workers. Local union officials denied that there was any colour bar but in 1955 the Passenger Group of the TGWU had passed a resolution that coloured workers should not be employed as bus crews. Andrew Hake, curate of the Bristol Industrial Mission, recalled that "The TGWU in the city had said that if one black man steps on the platform as a conductor, every wheel will stop."

The bus workers' concern, apart from the racism
Racism
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

 which was common at that time, was that a new source of labour could reduce their earnings. Pay was low and workers relied on overtime to get a good wage. One shop steward said, "people were fearful of an influx of people from elsewhere (on the grounds it) would be reducing their earnings potential."

Boycott


Four young West Indian men, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown, formed an action group, later to be called the West Indian Development Council, as they were unhappy with the lack of progress in fighting discrimination by the West Indian Association. Owen Henry had met Paul Stephenson whose father was from West Africa and who had been to college. The group decided that the articulate Stephenson would be their spokesman. Stephenson set up a test case to prove the colour bar existed by arranging an interview with the bus company for a young warehouseman and Boys' Brigade
Boys' Brigade
For the 80s New Wave band from Canada, see Boys Brigade .The Boys' Brigade is an interdenominational Christian youth organisation, conceived by William Alexander Smith to combine drill and fun activities with Christian values...

 officer, Guy Bailey. When Stephenson then told the company that Bailey was West Indian, the interview was cancelled. Inspired by the refusal of Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks
Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was an African-American civil rights activist, whom the U.S. Congress called "the first lady of civil rights", and "the mother of the freedom movement"....

 to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

 and the ensuing Montgomery Bus Boycott
Montgomery Bus Boycott
The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign that started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, intended to oppose the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. Many important figures in the civil rights movement were involved in the boycott,...

, the activists decided on a bus boycott in Bristol.

Their action was announced at a press conference on 29 April. The following day they claimed that none of the city's West Indians were using the buses and that many white people supported them. In an editorial the Bristol Evening Post pointed out that the TGWU opposed apartheid in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

 and asked what trade union leaders were doing to counteract racism in their own ranks. When reporters questioned the bus company about the boycott, the general manager, Ian Patey, said
"The advent of coloured crews would mean a gradual falling off of white staff. It is true that London Transport employ a large coloured staff. They even have recruiting offices in Jamaica and they subsidise the fares to Britain of their new coloured employees. As a result of this, the amount of white labour dwindles steadily on the London Underground. You won't get a white man in London to admit it, but which of them will join a service where they may find themselves working under a coloured foreman? ... I understand that in London, coloured men have become arrogant and rude, after they have been employed for some months."

Support



Students from Bristol University held a protest march to the bus station and the local headquarters of the TGWU on 1 May which attracted heckling from bus crews as they passed through the city centre, according to the local press. Local MP Tony Benn
Tony Benn
Anthony Neil Wedgwood "Tony" Benn, PC is a British Labour Party politician and a former MP and Cabinet Minister.His successful campaign to renounce his hereditary peerage was instrumental in the creation of the Peerage Act 1963...

 contacted then Labour Opposition leader
Leader of the Opposition
The Leader of the Opposition is a title traditionally held by the leader of the largest party not in government in a Westminster System of parliamentary government...

 Harold Wilson
Harold Wilson
James Harold Wilson, Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, FRS, FSS, PC was a British Labour Member of Parliament, Leader of the Labour Party. He was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the 1960s and 1970s, winning four general elections, including a minority government after the...

 who spoke out against the colour bar at an Anti-Apartheid Movement
Anti-Apartheid Movement
Anti-Apartheid Movement , originally known as the Boycott Movement, was a British organization that was at the center of the international movement opposing South Africa's system of apartheid and supporting South Africa's Blacks....

 rally in London. On 2 May local Labour Party
Labour Party (UK)
The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

 Alderman Henry Hennessey spoke of the apparent collusion between bus company management and the TGWU over the colour bar. On 3 May, the ruling Labour Group on the city council
History of local government in Bristol
Bristol City Council, formerly known as The Bristol Corporation , is the local government authority governing the city of Bristol, England. Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, successive royal charters granted increasing rights of local governance to Bristol...

 threatened him with expulsion, despite his honourable service of over forty years.

Tony Benn, Fenner Brockway and former cricketer Learie Constantine
Learie Constantine
Learie Nicholas Constantine, Baron Constantine MBE was a West Indian cricketer who played 18 Test matches before the Second World War. He took West Indies' first wicket in Test cricket and was the team's leading all-rounder and opening bowler for the entirety of his career...

 also condemned the bus company. Constantine was then serving as High Commissioner
High Commissioner (Commonwealth)
In the Commonwealth of Nations, a High Commissioner is the senior diplomat in charge of the diplomatic mission of one Commonwealth government to another.-History:...

 for Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago officially the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is an archipelagic state in the southern Caribbean, lying just off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and south of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles...

. Constantine wrote letters to the bus company and Stephenson and spoke out against the colour bar to reporters when he attended the cricket match between the West Indies and Gloucestershire
Gloucestershire County Cricket Club
Gloucestershire County Cricket Club is one of the 18 major county clubs which make up the English and Welsh national cricket structure, representing the historic county of Gloucestershire. Its limited overs team is called the Gloucestershire Gladiators....

 at the County Ground
County Cricket Ground, Bristol
The County Cricket Ground is a cricket venue in Bristol, England. It is in the district of Ashley Down. The ground is home to the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club....

, which took place from the 4th to the 7th of May. The West Indies team refused to publicly support the boycott, saying that sport and politics did not mix. During the game local members of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) distributed leaflets urging spectators to support the action.

The local branch of the TGWU refused to meet with a delegation from the West Indian Development Council, and an increasingly bitter war of words was fought out in the local media. Ron Nethercott, South West Regional Secretary of the union, persuaded a local black TGWU member, Bill Smith, to sign a statement which called for quiet negotiation to solve the dispute and condemned Stephenson for causing potential harm to the city's coloured population. Nethercott launched an attack on Stephenson in the Daily Herald newspaper, calling him dishonest and irresponsible. This led to a libel case in the High Court
High Court of Justice
The High Court of Justice is, together with the Court of Appeal and the Crown Court, one of the Senior Courts of England and Wales...

, which awarded Stephenson damages and costs in December 1963.

The Bristol Council of Churches launched a mediation attempt, saying

We seriously regret that what may prove an extended racial conflict arising from this issue has apparently been deliberately created by a small group of West Indians professing to be representative. We also deplore the apparent fact that social and economic fears on the part of some white people should have placed the Bristol Bus Company in a position where it is most difficult to fulfil the Christian ideal of race relations.
This in turn was criticised by Robert Davison, an official at the Jamaica
Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

n High Commission
High Commissioner (Commonwealth)
In the Commonwealth of Nations, a High Commissioner is the senior diplomat in charge of the diplomatic mission of one Commonwealth government to another.-History:...

, who stated that it was "nonsense to describe a group of West Indians as unrepresentative when no representative West Indian body existed."

At a May Day
International Workers' Day
International Workers' Day is a celebration of the international labour movement and left-wing movements. It commonly sees organized street demonstrations and marches by working people and their labour unions throughout most of the world. May 1 is a national holiday in more than 80 countries...

 rally, held on Sunday 6 May in Eastville
Eastville, Bristol
Eastville is the name of both a council ward in the city of Bristol in the United Kingdom and a suburb of the city that lies within that ward. The Eastville ward covers the areas of Eastville, Crofts End , Stapleton and part of Fishponds...

, local Trades Council
Labour council
A labour council, trades council or industrial council is an association of labour unions or union branches in a given area. Most commonly, they represent unions in a given geographical area, whether at the district, city, region, or provincial or state level...

 members publicly criticised the TGWU. On the same day Paul Stephenson had organised a demonstration march to St Mary Redcliffe
St Mary Redcliffe
St. Mary Redcliffe is an Anglican parish church located in the Redcliffe district of the English port city of Bristol, close to the city centre. Constructed from the 12th to the 15th centuries, the church is a Grade 1 listed building, St...

 church, but there was a poor turnout. Some local West Indians said they should not ripple the water and, according to Roy Hackett, they may have feared victimisation. The dispute led to what has been described as one of the largest mailbags that the Bristol Evening Post had ever received, with contributors writing in support of both sides of the argument.

Resolution


The union, the city Labour establishment and the Bishop of Bristol
Bishop of Bristol
The Bishop of Bristol heads the Church of England Diocese of Bristol in the Province of Canterbury, in England.The present diocese covers parts of the counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire together with a small area of Wiltshire...

, Oliver Stratford Tomkins
Oliver Stratford Tomkins
Oliver Stratford Tomkins was an Anglican Bishop of Bristol in the third quarter of the 20th century.-Early life and education:...

, ignored Stephenson and tried to work with Bill Smith to resolve the dispute. Learie Constantine continued with his support for the campaign, meeting with the Lord Mayor
Lord Mayor
The Lord Mayor is the title of the Mayor of a major city, with special recognition.-Commonwealth of Nations:* In Australia it is a political position. Australian cities with Lord Mayors: Adelaide, Brisbane, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, Newcastle, Parramatta, Perth, Sydney, and Wollongong...

 of Bristol and Frank Cousins
Frank Cousins
Frank Cousins PC was a British trade union leader and Labour politician.He was born in Bulwell, Nottinghamshire, and became a full-time official in the road transport section of the Transport and General Workers' Union in July 1938...

, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union. In addition, he went to the Bristol Omnibus Company's parent, the Transport Holding Company
Transport Holding Company
The Transport Holding Company was a British Government owned company created by the Transport Act 1962 to administer a range of state-owned transport, travel and engineering companies that were previously managed by the British Transport Commission ; it came into existence on 1 January...

, and persuaded them to send officials to talk with the union. The company chairman told Constantine that racial discrimination was not company policy.
Negotiations between the bus company and the union continued for several months until a mass meeting of 500 bus workers agreed on 27 August to end the colour bar. On 28 August Ian Patey announced that there would be no more discrimination in employing bus crews. It was on the same day that Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington
March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was the largest political rally for human rights in United States history and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. It took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 28, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr...

. On 17 September, Raghbir Singh, a Sikh
Sikh
A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism. It primarily originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia. The term "Sikh" has its origin in Sanskrit term शिष्य , meaning "disciple, student" or शिक्ष , meaning "instruction"...

, became Bristol's first non white bus conductor. A few days later two Jamaican and two Pakistani men joined him.

Aftermath


In 1965, the United Kingdom Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 passed a Race Relations Act
Race Relations Act 1965
The Race Relations Act 1965 was the first legislation in the United Kingdom to address racial discrimination.The Act outlawed discrimination on the "grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins" in public places....

, which made "racial discrimination unlawful in public places." This was followed by the Race Relations Act 1968
Race Relations Act 1968
The Race Relations Act 1968 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom making it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins. It also created the Community Relations Commission to promote 'harmonious...

 which extended the provisions to housing and employment. The enactment of this legislation has been cited by some as having been influenced by the Bristol bus boycott. Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent for The Independent
The Independent
The Independent is a British national morning newspaper published in London by Independent Print Limited, owned by Alexander Lebedev since 2010. It is nicknamed the Indy, while the Sunday edition, The Independent on Sunday, is the Sindy. Launched in 1986, it is one of the youngest UK national daily...

newspaper, said "Few doubt that without Mr Stephenson's efforts it would have been difficult for Harold Wilson's Labour government to bring in Britain's first anti-discrimination laws." In 2003, as part of Black History Month
Black History Month
Black History Month is an observance of the history of the African diaspora in a number of countries outside of Africa. Since 1976, it is observed annually in the United States and Canada in February, while in the United Kingdom it is observed in October...

, BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

 broadcast a programme about the boycott.

See also

  • Anti-discrimination law
    Anti-discrimination law
    Anti-discrimination law refers to the law on people's right to be treated equally. Some countries mandate that in employment, in consumer transactions and in political participation people may be dealt with on an equal basis regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality and sometimes...

  • Civil and political rights
  • Montgomery Bus Boycott
    Montgomery Bus Boycott
    The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a political and social protest campaign that started in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, USA, intended to oppose the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. Many important figures in the civil rights movement were involved in the boycott,...

  • 1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott
    1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott
    The 1957 Alexandra Bus Boycott was a protest undertaken against the Public Utility Transport Corporation by the people of Alexandra in Johannesburg....


External links