SIX leaders of the 1963 Bristol bus boycott have been awarded Freedom of the City.
Guy Reid-Bailey OBE and Barbara Dettering received the honour, and a formal thank-you, at a full meeting of Bristol City Council. Roy Hackett MBE, Owen Henry, Prince Brown and Audley Evans were also given the honour posthumously.
The group led a four-month boycott of buses 60 years ago in protest against the council-owned Bristol Omnibus Company’s racist policies of not employing black drivers.
Barbara Deterring said: “It’s an honour. I am very privileged, thankful and happy to finally say: we’ve done it. It was a hard struggle, it was a daily struggle. Many times I skipped work, luckily I wasn’t sacked, to be at a meeting of some sort where we were planning the next move — and thankfully it paid off.”
In a statement read out by his son, Guy Reid-Bailey said: “I would like to thank those who have worked hard over the years to make this day possible. I came to this country in 1961 as a 16-year-old, hoping to be educated, to work and achieve maybe more than I could have done back in Jamaica.
“I was naive to racism and horrified with what I found when I arrived in England. From the end of the bus boycott, I worked hard fighting through the ugly faces of racism, but looking back I’m very proud I was able to help and be part of the first Race Relations Act. I believe there’s still a long way to go in the fight against racism.”
The boycott led to historic changes in the law, the two Race Relations Acts in 1965 and 1968, which later led to the Equalities Act, outlawing public discrimination. Before the boycott, it was legal for companies to discriminate based on race and not to recruit drivers from the black community.
Lord Mayor Paula O’Rourke has sent a written apology to Mr Bailey. She said: “Freedom of the city is the highest honour we can give to citizens in our city, who have made exceptional contributions to the city. They certainly deserve this honour for the actions they took back in the bus boycott.
“The Bristol Omnibus Company’s racist policies are a dark stain on Bristol’s past but the collective action taken by the boycott leaders and the wider community, who came together to end this injustice, will widely be remembered as one of the city’s proudest and most consequential moments. It undoubtedly changed Bristol and the UK for better.”
Amirah Cole, Labour Councillor for Ashley Ward, said the award was a fitting tribute to the bus boycott heroes.
“I would also like to acknowledge that while the leaders of the boycott rightly receive plaudits for their campaign, the boycott would not have achieved its aim without the full support of the community. A personal example being my dad, who walked from Avonmouth to Montpelier every day as he refused to break the boycott by getting the bus. The boycott was a shining example of solidarity and what people can achieve when they stick together to campaign against injustice. I hope that awarding the boycott leaders this status will bring attention to their acts and inspire others to stand against prejudice.