View all news

Bristol Bus Boycott activists inspire at 60th anniversary event

Guy Bailey is applauded at Remembering the Bristol Bus Boycott Sirun Tang

L-R: Guy Bailey, Vernon Samuels, Primrose Granville and Joyce Morris-Wisdom Sirun Tang

The event was held at the University's Global Lounge Sirun Tang

Press release issued: 8 November 2023

‘Courage’ and ‘inspiration’ were the watchwords at a University of Bristol event marking 60 years since the Bristol Bus Boycott.

Many in the crowd at the University’s Global Lounge blinked back tears as four campaigners told their stories:

  • Guy Bailey, a civil rights activist credited with sparking the boycott when he was refused a job as a bus driver
  • Joyce Morris-Wisdom, who was 14 when she began protesting with fellow boycotters
  • Vernon Samuels, the son of Bristol's first Black bus driver
  • Primrose Granville, a community advocate and presenter on BBC Radio Bristol & BCfm

Mr Bailey told the crowd of students and staff: “The journey is long, hard and difficult, but we continue to make progress.

“All of you, whether you are student, teacher or ordinary citizen, take this occasion and use it as a cornerstone for your journey.”

The boycott began in 1963 after Mr Bailey was refused a job at Bristol Omnibus Company. For four months many across the city refused to use the buses, until the company overturned the colour bar.

Two years later, the Race Relations Act 1965 was passed, outlawing racial discrimination.

Vernon Samuels' father, Norman Samuels, was Bristol’s first black bus driver.

“Imagine how hostile that environment was,” he said. “He had to sit in a canteen with people who didn’t like him, who didn’t want to sit with him – I admire that courage. That path can be lonely but hearing others’ stories is encouraging.”

Vernon Samuels, an Olympian and former international athlete, added: “We need cathedral thinkers. The people who conceived cathedrals but never saw the end of these buildings being built.

“Lots has been done but there are still many rivers to cross. There’s no better place than a university to cultivate that cathedral thinking mind. We need to be building on those foundations.”

Mrs Morris-Wisdom took time off school to join the protests. She said she felt “blessed and honoured to take part”, despite fearing for her safety amidst racially aggravated beatings.

It all took place as Martin Luther King talked about his dream,” she recalled. “The impossible became the possible. Thank you to Guy Bailey, because if the horrible things hadn’t happened to him… we wouldn’t be here to hear these stories today.”

Mrs Morris-Wisdom also thanked the University of Bristol student “allies”, who marched against the colour bar during the boycott.

Primrose Granville told the crowd: “People like Guy Bailey for me are the most inspirational people you’ll meet, because they got up and stood up for what is right, and their stories aren’t told enough.”

Also at the event was Rob Mitchell, the second Black person to become President of Bristol Students’ Union. He said: “The uni of Bristol had a relationship with this boycott, we shouldn’t underestimate the impact that had. The fact that middle class, mainstream young people were out there marching had a huge impact. I think you should big up your institutional ancestors.”

And in answer to a crowd question about staying strong against inequality, Mr Bailey said: “One encouraging word that I have got for everyone, is when you’re walking and you fell over, stop, pick up the pieces, and get on with it.”

The University’s Vice-Chancellor and President Evelyn Welch also attended, where she spoke of the boycotters’ “bravery” in making the world a better place.

‘Remembering the Bristol Bus Boycott’ was put on by Curiosity UnLtd, the University of Bristol’s Global Lounge, Bristol Student’s Union and Race Inclusion Advocates.

Hosting the event was Julz Davis, Disrupter-in-Chief at Curiosity UnLtd, a think and do tank taking positive action on racial and social justice.

Further information

All photos were taken by photographer and University of Bristol student Sirun Tang. Visit Sirun's website and Instagram.

Edit this page