By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor
At a special cross-party reception in Westminster, the leaders of the Bristol Bus Boycott were felicitated for paving the way for seismic changes in equality in the UK.
The event was hosted by the Bristol West MP and Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire and focused on equality and inclusivity to mark Black History Month.
At the reception, leaders of the Bristol Bus Boycott and civil rights campaigners were honoured for their work in tackling inequality. The event included several speeches from politicians and boycott pioneers, before being taken on a tour of the Palace of Westminster and finally meeting Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer.
The contingent arrived at the Palace of Westminster in a themed First bus from Bristol on Monday, October 23. The reception was organised to mark 60 years since the iconic boycott that ended the prevailing ‘colour bar’ at the Bristol Omnibus Company, the predecessor to First Bus.
Among the guests who were present at the event was Guy Reid-Bailey, who was refused employment as a driver because of the colour of his skin. The employment practices of Bristol Omnibus Company sparked the boycott which lasted for four months before ending in August 1963 when the Bristol Omnibus Company was finally forced to end its ‘colour bar’. The campaign helped pave the way for the UK’s Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968. The leaders of the Bristol Bus Boycott were shown the original copy of the 1965 Race Relations Act during the event.
The group also included Vernon Samuels, the son of Bristol’s first Black bus driver, Norman Samuels and the family members of pioneers of the boycott such as Owen Henry and Barbara Dettering. A group of young activists inspired by the boycott also took the journey to Westminster.
On the event, Doug Claringbold, Managing Director for First West of England, said: ‘Today is another landmark moment in this year’s commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Bristol Bus Boycott. To be recognised and thanked right at the heart of Parliament will be a memory many of those who attended will cherish forever, and I’m so proud that our team at First West of England played its part in helping to make this moment happen.
‘The boycott was a truly milestone moment in our history, and what the pioneers did 60 years ago, along with those who stood in solidarity, shows what ground-breaking change we can achieve if we work together.’
The event was part of a larger campaign, dubbed Drive for Change, to mark the boycott’s anniversary, and has been organised jointly by First West of England, Bristol Ideas, Creative Connex and Curiosity UnLtd.
The organiser of the Westminster visit, Julz Davis, Founder of Curiosity UnLtd, said: ‘When Rosa Parks sat down, Bristol stood up and marched. The day the Bristol Bus Boycott defeated the colour bar, Martin Luther King had a dream. This peaceful and purposeful protest inspired the Race Relations Act of 1965. This was the UK's first-ever piece of anti-racist legislation, and today, it sits at the heart of the Equalities Act 2010.'
Among the high-profile politicians present at the event were David Lammy, Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs; Anneliese Dodds, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities; Dianne Abbott, the first Black woman elected to parliament, and Hilary Benn, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. For the latter it was a special moment as his father, Tony Benn, Member of Parliament for Bristol South East during the Bristol Bus Boycott stood in solidarity with the campaigners.
Addressing the event, Leader of the Opposition, Sir Kier Starmer lauded the leaders of the boycott: ‘The Bristol Bus Boycott was one of the biggest achievements in overcoming injustice in this country.
‘To those in this room who conceived, organised, led and participated in this protest, we extend our deepest gratitude.
‘Your unwavering commitment and tireless efforts demonstrated the unity and determination of Bristol’s Black and Asian communities in their unwavering fight against discrimination and is a testament to the impact of communities when we work together for equality.’
Featured image: First Bus
Did you attend any event marking the 60th anniversary of the Bristol Bus Boycott?