Commemorative plaque to mark Bristol’s fight for equality
Press release issued: 28 August 2014
A commemorative plaque was unveiled yesterday [Thursday 28 August] at the city’s bus station to celebrate the Bristol Bus Boycott campaign of 1963 - a milestone in achieving racial equality.
Members of the original campaign, Dr Paul Stephenson OBE, Guy Bailey OBE, Roy Hackett, and others from the Bristol Bus Boycott 50 Group joined George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, at the unveiling ceremony at Bristol Bus Station along with representatives from First Group, The University of Bristol, and Bristol City Council.
The plaque will serve as a permanent celebration and reminder of the non-violent campaign to change Bristol Omnibus Company’s employment laws, which at the time discriminated against black and ethnic minority communities by refusing them employment.
Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Bristol said: "The University is pleased to take part in marking this important anniversary. Bristol has always been a city that does things its own way - an independent thinking city - the bus boycott is a great example of this and also of the city and the University's students working together for a common cause. We are proud of the role our students played in this at the time and are honoured to be able to mark the anniversary today."
The bus company’s policy was entirely legal at the time but a small group, led by Paul Stephenson, decided to take a stand against the discriminatory practices.
The boycott started in April 1963 and involved pickets of bus depots, blockades and sit-down protests throughout the city. Public opinion in support of the campaign grew, and on 28 August 1963 - the same day that Martin Luther King delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech in Washington DC - Bristol Omnibus Company declared a change in policy, stating that there would be complete racial integration on the buses. By September the company had their first non-white bus conductor.
Dr Stephenson, who received his Honorary Doctorate from the University of Bristol earlier this year, said: “The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 has become a watershed in the past, present and future of how the city comes to terms with its Asian and black and minority ethnic make-up.
“We all face a formidable challenge to the sort of Bristol that we want to share with each other, and to hope, peace and justice for all. Without hope the city could easily spiral down into despair and discrimination. We have the potential of making Bristol a city of opportunity and tolerance. As Martin Luther King once said, ‘We face chaos or community; the choice is ours’.”