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News & Views

Celebrating Black Lives: Paul Stephenson OBE

This month we celebrate Paul Stephenson OBE, who led the Bristol Boycott of 1963 which paved the way for the first Race Relations Act.

"Every generation has a duty to fight against racism, otherwise it will find its way into our country and into our homes. Addressing this challenge is our duty if we wish to seek a happy and prosperous existence."

Paul Stephenson is an anti racism campaigner who was awarded an OBE and the Freedom of the City of Bristol in 2009. In 1963, Stephenson led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company, protesting against its refusal to employ Black or Asian drivers or conductors. The boycott was supported by thousands of Bristolians, and the company revoked its colour bar six months later.

"If you were a young black person living in Britain, you couldn’t be a policeman, an ambulanceman or fireman. You couldn’t go into pubs, hotels, swimming pools, and you couldn’t drive on the buses. I had been watching the amazing things that Martin Luther King had been achieving in America, and now I thought something had to be done here too." (speaking of his work in the 1960s)

In 1964 Stephenson achieved national fame when he refused to leave a pub until he was served and he was later tried on a charge of failing to leave a licensed premises. His campaigns were instrumental in paving the way for the first Race Relations Act, in 1965.

“You can’t have true racial harmony without racial justice. So, you need to be disruptive.”

Each month we mark the significant life of a person of colour as a positive statement and a contribution to redressing historical imbalances in our society.

illustration by Kate Dean


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