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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Bristol

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Raghbir Singh
Bristol's first Asian conductor

© Courtesy of Bristol United Press
Culture wars? Bristol's colour bar dispute of 1963

In Bristol it took a small but determined group of black workers to challenge the status quo with a bus boycott and publicity campaign that was soon to split the city and capture world-wide attention.

Tony Benn
Tony Benn supported the rights of Afro-Caribbean and Asian workers
Tony Benn, Sir Learie Constantine and Harold Wilson all figured in this local story that helped to raise the nation's consciousness about racial injustice. The boycott was nominally successful in that a small number of Black and Asian workers were hired as bus conductors and drivers in 1963. But it took five more years until racial discrimination at work was finally made illegal.

The story of the Bristol Bus Boycott quickly faded from the nation's memory during the Thatcher years but was retold last year on the occasion of its 40th anniversary by Radio 4 ('Black and White on the Buses' Jolyon Jenkins producer October 2003). It was based on an oral history I wrote in the 1980s after talking with those busworkers and anti-racist activists involved in the dispute (Black and White on the Buses: the 1963 Colour Bar Dispute in Bristol (Bristol, 1986, 2003)).

Much of what follows comes from the research done in the BBC archives by the Radio 4 production team and from my original interviews.

In the 1960s, there had long been disquiet amongst Bristol's tiny Caribbean community about widespread job discrimination, especially on the buses. In 1963, Paul Stephenson, a youth worker of African and English origin, supported by a coterie of concerned West Indian acquaintances, decided to force the issue into the public arena.

Words: Madge Dresser

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