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The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963

Updated: May 6

Plague depicting key moments in bristol bus boycott of 1963 - protests, the five men behind the boycott (Stephenson, Bailey, Hackett, Evans, Henry and Prince Brown), and the first non-white bus crew hired Raghbir Singhhn
Bristol Bus Boycott 1963 plaque

Bristol in the early 1960s had an estimated 3,000 residents of West Indian origin, some of whom had served in the British military during the Second World War and some who had emigrated to the UK more recently.

In common with other British cities, there was widespread racial discrimination in housing and employment at that time against Black and Asian people.

Despite a reported labour shortage on the buses. Black and Asian people were only offered employment in lower paid positions in workshops and canteens. Because the Bristol Omnibus Company operated a colour bar that prevented Black and Asian people from working as bus crews.

Four young West Indian men, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown, formed a campaigning group, later to be called the West Indian Development Council to fight the blatant discrimination.

This new West Indian Development Council (WIDC) soon joined forces with Paul Stephenson, Bristol’s first youth officer.

Stephenson set up a test case to prove the colour bar existed by arranging an interview with the bus company for Guy Bailey, a well-qualified and well-spoken young man for the role of a bus conductor. But when the bus company realised realised that Bailey was a Black Jamaican, the interview was cancelled, and the boycott began.

Taking inspiration from Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the US the WIDC organised their own bus boycott. They organised a local press conference and announced their boycott of the Bristol buses on 29th April 1963. the next day, no Caribbeans used the buses. They organised pickets of bus depots and routes, along with blockades and sit-down protests on routes throughout the city centre.

There cause was further bolster by Bristol University students who organised a protest march to the bus station and the local headquarters of the local TGWU and they were heckled by passing bus crews according to the local press.

Local newspaper, The Bristol Evening Post criticised the TGWU for not countering racism in their own ranks while opposing the apartheid system in South Africa. While former councillor and Alderman Henry Hennessey spoke of collusion between the bus company and the TGWU over the colour bar, and was threatened with expulsion from his local Labour group as a result.