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Bristol Bus Boycott 1963

Although the 1948 British Nationality Act gave full rights of entry and settlement to people born or naturalized in either the United Kingdom or one of its colonies, a color bar existed. The color bar was a policy that stopped Black and Asian people from entering pubs, bars, working in certain jobs etc. At the time, employers couldn't be prosecuted for discriminating on racist grounds.

At the state-owned Bristol Omnibus Company, run by the local council, the color bar was an open secret.

Following various acts of discrimination, several people by the name of; Owen Henry, Paul Stephenson, Guy Bailey, Roy Hackett, and Prince Brown formed a group to lobby for rights.

On April 30th, 1963, the well-spoken Paul Stephenson arranged an interview at the Bristol Omnibus Company for 18-year old Guy Reid-Bailey. As the receptionist went into the manager's office, Bailey heard her say, "Your two o'clock appointment is here, and he's Black." The manager said, "there's no point having an interview; we don't employ Black people."

Bailey's unsuccessful interview marked a turning point. Stephenson and the group invited the local media to his flat and told them what happened at the bus company headquarters. Then, the group urged a boycott of the service until the policy of discrimination was ended. The media strongly condemned the policy, and the boycott quickly gathered pace. Supporters refused to use the buses and marches were held across the city.

By mid-September, Bristol had its first non-white bus conductor. Raghbir Singh, an Indian-born Sikh, who’d been in the city since 1959. On his first day, he told the Western Daily Press he would wear a blue turban to work because it "goes with my uniform. If I wear a brown suit, I have on a brown turban". Further Black and Asian bus crews quickly followed.

The impact of the boycott's success was not only felt by those who gained jobs with the Bristol Bus Company. Stephenson believes the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968, which banned discrimination in public places and in employment, were brought in by Harold Wilson's government to prevent a situation like that in Bristol from occurring again.


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