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Black History Month and the Black Bristol History Makers

  • person Fiona Morrison
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Black History Month and the Black Bristol History Makers
Black History Month happens in October. As Fefus Designs is all about empowering children through representation, I would love to talk about some of the black heroes from my home town who have inspired me and thousands of others too. I’m dedicating this month’s blog to the black Bristol history makers! 

This year’s Black History Month theme is ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words.’ And I have picked people who lived that slogan. They changed the way we live today thanks to their actions. This is why they deserve special recognition during Black History Month 2022 and beyond. 


What is Black History Month?

Black History Month in the UK happens every October and features a range of events and campaigns aimed at celebrating the contribution of black people to the country and to advocate for equality and greater representation. 

It is an opportunity to discuss, share and highlight the range of backgrounds, experiences and achievements of black Britons. In addition, many use the event as a platform to shine light on the lack of black history in the school curriculum and to campaign for its inclusion. 

Each year’s event has a theme around which the events revolve. This year it is ‘Time for Change: Action Not Words.’ In the words of the official BHM website, “black people are often given the double burden of experiencing racism and discrimination, and then being expected to fix it.” It is hoped that this year’s celebrations will bring people together to take the necessary actions to spark change.  


Black Bristol History Makers

As a proud Bristolian, I wanted to explore the characters from my home town who made a real difference in history. Here are some of the most interesting. 

Paul Stephenson, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Guy Bailey, Audley Evans and Prince Brown

The young men behind the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 have gone down in history and for good reason. 1960s Bristol was not a tolerant place. Its sizeable West Indian community were continually attacked by racists and black people faced discrimination in all areas of life, from housing to employment. 

One of the most notable employers to run a colour bar for certain jobs was the Bristol Omnibus Company. It was known that, even though there was a staff shortage, they would not allow black or Asian people to be employed on bus crews. 


The West Indian Development Council

Angered by this, Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown formed what became known as the West Indian Development Council to represent the community. They teamed up with Paul Stephenson, whose heritage was from West Africa, and set about challenging the Bristol Omnibus Company. 

After proving the colour bar existed by arranging a job interview for Guy Bailey, only to later reveal he was West Indian and then find the offer of an interview rescinded, the group decided to protest the bus company and the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU), which had voted for a colour bar, and announced a boycott of services in April 1963. They claimed that no West Indians would use the buses and that many white people supported the action too. 


The Boycott

The men found support from many high profile places and, despite personal attacks on their character (Stephenson won damages for libel for one such example), they held firm until the bus company and union finally resolved to end the colour bar, in August.  On 17 September 1963, Raghbir Singh, a Sikh, became Bristol's first non-white bus conductor, with two Jamaican and two Pakistani men joining as bus crew soon afterwards. 

The boycott was heralded as being instrumental in the passing of the Race Relations Act two years later, making "racial discrimination unlawful in public places."

The men were celebrated for their achievement in changing the course of black British history. Sadly, Roy Hackett died earlier this year, at the age of 93. 


Hyacinth Hall

Hyacinth Hall was born in Jamaica and arrived in England in 1958. Having dedicated much of her life to working with children, she came to Bristol in 1985 when she became the first black headteacher in the city. This was a massive achievement for the time and, to put it in context, only 26 of the 1,346 teachers in Bristol as recently as 2018 were black!

Attracted by Bristol’s thriving African-Caribbean community, Hyacinth took up the role at St. Barnabas, a primary school in St. Paul’s. She chose to live nearby, believing that teachers should be immersed in the environment which their pupils experience.  

She was dismayed by the poor standards of education for black children in Bristol in the mid-80s and made it her mission to improve the provision given to them. She would not open the school unless it had been properly cleaned, pledging to replace the shabby old furniture in an attempt to create a space that encouraged greater expectations from pupils and parents. 

She took time out of her day to help pupils and families she saw that were struggling and her work in school and in the community were recognised in 2004 when she was awarded an MBE. Truly a black Bristol history maker whose actions changed the lives of so many in the city.


How Bristol History Makers Encourage Me

I’m a real believer in the power of representation. When children see that other people like them exist and can make real changes in the world, they believe that they can too. These black Bristol history makers were people who went out into the world and changed situations that they didn’t agree with and that is something to cherish during Black History Month. 

Fefus Designs’ art and merchandise represent diverse children so that they can see themselves in the things they love. Browse my shop to find clothing, wall art, accessories and other products that your children will love.  

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