West Indians of Bristol boycott buses, end racial discrimination in hiring, UK, 1963


Remove the "colour bar" of the Bristol Bus Company that prevented non-whites from becoming bus drivers and train conductors.

Time period notes

Unofficial efforts to remove the ban took place as early as 1961, but the actual boycott began on 29 April 1963.

Time period

29 April, 1963 to 28 August, 1963


United Kingdom

Location City/State/Province

Bristol, South West England
Jump to case narrative


Roy Hackett, Henry Owens, Audley Evans, Prince Brown, Paul Stephenson


Not known

External allies

Bristol University students and professors, Lord Mayor Ald. Leonard Stevenson, London Bus Company, Clergy of West Indian churches

Involvement of social elites

Sir Learie Constantine


Bristol Omnibus Company, Transport and General Worker's Union

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known.

Campaigner violence

Not known.

Repressive Violence

Slander against West Indian Development Council and Paul Stephenson


Human Rights



Group characterization

West Indians of Bristol

Groups in 1st Segment

West Indian Development Council

Groups in 2nd Segment

Sir Learie Constantine
Bristol University students and professors

Groups in 3rd Segment

Tony Benn
Transport Holdings Company

Segment Length

About 2.5 weeks

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


2 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

All goals were met and laid groundwork for laws against public discrimination.

Database Narrative

Many West Indian settled in England during the 1960’s due to looser immigration restrictions. In Southwest England West Indians easily found menial jobs in Bristol, but found themselves shut out of higher positions. It was hardly a secret that the Bristol Omnibus Company constantly turned away black and Asian applicants for drivers and conductors, but neither management nor the union, the Transport and General Worker’s Union, seemed interested in dealing with the “colour bar”.

In the late 1950’s, the newly-formed West Indian Association had been looking into the issue of job discrimination. By 1962, after little progress in overturning the colour bar, four young Jamaican men named Henry Owens, Roy Hackett, Audley Evans, and Prince Brown broke away from the West Indian Association and formed the West Indian Development Council. The council appointed Paul Stephenson, a college educated youth worker who had recently moved to Bristol, as spokesperson.  

In 1963 Stephenson used one of his students, Guy Bailey, as a test case to see if the bus crew ban existed. As expected, the Bristol Omnibus Company canceled Bailey’s job interview for bus conductor after realizing that Bailey was black. 

Inspired by the Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott, Stephenson decided to begin a bus boycott as well. On 29 April 1963 the West Indian Development Council held a news conference announcing the beginning of the boycott. 

The next day, nearly all 7000 West Indian residents of Bristol refused to ride buses. 

Taking cues from the civil rights movement in America, Stephenson tried reaching the greater West Indian community through the church; however, he had trouble gaining support since most West Indian clergy preferred staying of political issues. Still, the campaign grew without the church’s cooperation, with Bristol University students and sympathetic white Bristol residents joining in marches the following week. 

When the local newspaper, the Bristol Evening Post, began reporting the campaign, the Bristol Omnibus Company general manager, Ian Patey, stated that the colour bar only existed for economic reasons, and that the bar came about after a 1955 union ballot in favor of it. Patey made racist comments about the boycott that stirred parts of the community that were originally neutral in action.

The Transport and General Worker’s Union responded by stating that enforcing the bar was the bus company’s decision only. 

Stephenson and the Council’s aggressive approach soon caused a backlash. The regional secretary of the Transport and General Worker’s Union Ron Nethercott formed an alliance with Bill Smith of the West Indian Association to negotiate the colour bar. Smith’s gradual and non-confrontational approach made him the preferred negotiator compared to Stephenson. 

Newspapers began criticizing the West Indian Development Council for dramatizing the situation, and support of the campaign divided into those for Smith and those for Stephenson.

Soon the boycott caught the attention of Sir Learie Constantine, a famous former cricket player and current High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago. It was his approval of Stephenson that kept the West Indian Development Council from being isolated from the campaign. 

Sir Learie Constantine met with the Bristol Lord Mayor Leonard Stevenson and decided that it would be more effective to get the Transport Holdings Company, the company the Bristol Omnibus Company reported to, to overturn the bar. After a series of letters and editorials, official negotiations between the Transport Holdings Company and the Bristol Omnibus Company began in London on 8 May 1963. 

The nature of the talks were kept private, but the bus boycott continued for the months the talks lasted and letters to the editor regarding the boycott filled local newspapers all summer. On 28 August 1963, after four months of the bus boycott, the talks ended with an agreement to overturn the colour bar. 

On 16 September 1963, a Sikh named Raghbir Singh became the first non-white conductor in Bristol. Gradually, more blacks and Asians were hired as bus drivers and train conductors. Exposing this case of public discrimination contributed to the Race Relations Act of 1965, which banned discrimination of public areas and housing.


Montgomery Alabama Bus Boycott


"Protest revealed city had its own dream." Bristol Post [Bristol] 27 Aug 2013, Web.

Kelly, John. "What was behind the Bristol bus boycott?." BBC News Magazine. 26 Aug 2013: Web.

"Bristol Bus Dispute: Talks in London." The Glasgow Herald [Glasgow] 9 May 1963, Web.

OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT. "Bus Boycott By West Indians." Times [London, England] 3 May 1963: 11. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

OUR CORRESPONDENT. "Meeting Today On Bus Colour Bar." Times [London, England] 6 May 1963: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

OUR CORRESPONDENT. "Compromise On Buses Colour Bar Sought." Times [London, England] 7 May 1963: 5. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

"Bus Colour Bar To End." Times [London, England] 8 May 1963: 12. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

"The First Coloured Conductor Thinks its so Nice." Evening Post [Bristol, England] 17 Sep 1963: Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Dresser, Madge. Black and White on the Buses. Bristol: Bristol Broadsides (Co-op) Ltd, 1986. Web. <http://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/explore/sites/explore/files/explore_assets/2010/03/22/bri_ide_BandWOnTheBuses6.pdf>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Kerry Robinson 02/24/2014