Today marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the Bristol Bus Boycott, on 30 April 1963, after Guy Reid-Bailey was turned away from a job interview at the Bristol Omnibus Company once they realised that he was Black. The Boycott saw the “colour bar” lifted after many months of action. It is an incredibly important part of the history of our city and, given its contribution to the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968, our country too.
The men and women who led the Bristol Bus Boycott brought protest to our streets and legislation to the statute book. People like Asher and I have been able to walk through the doors that they opened for people of colour. We are truly standing on the shoulders of giants, and I thank all of the organisers of Friday’s event for giving us the opportunity to thank and celebrate them once again on the 60th anniversary of the start of the Boycott.
People like Barbara Dettering are both personal and political role models across Bristol. That was true for me when I was a kid playing at Bristol West Indies, the cricket club that Guy Reid-Bailey OBE co-founded, and both before and after the 2012 mayoral elections, when Paul Stephenson was a real support for me. It was also clear at a recent primary school visit in Whitchurch, where pupils rightly spoke to me with reverence about our city’s civil rights leaders and the lasting change that the Bristol Bus Boycott achieved.
Bristol City Council last year issued an apology to Guy for his treatment by the Bristol Omnibus Company, alongside conferring Freedom of the City upon him and Barbara. This, the highest civic honour which can be bestowed, recognising outstanding contributions to life in Bristol. It was also posthumously given to Roy Hackett MBE, to whom Asher paid tribute last year; Owen Henry; Audley Evans; and Prince Brown. Dr Paul Stephenson OBE was conferred with the honour in 2007. Rosa Parks, who started an earlier bus boycott over 4,000 miles away, is deservedly widely known. But we need to do more, locally and nationally, together to ensure that the names of Bristol’s own civil rights leaders are not forgotten.
Friday saw an event at M Shed, in front of an old Bristol bus, where I was asked to speak alongside Barbara Dettering, Joyce Morris Wisdom, Councillor Asher Craig, Roger Griffith MBE, Gamba Cole, Doug Claringbold, Vernon Samuels, Jacqui Wilson, and Miles Chambers. We will look to organise another event, to mark the 60th anniversary of the success of the Boycott, later this year.
Please credit all images to the Mayor of Bristol’s office, linking to this page where possible.