How will these resources help you?

Students may know of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and how demonstrators pulled down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. These resources will help you to put those protests in historical context.  The Bristol Bus Boycott was part of earlier anti-racist struggles in the city. It was a significant episode in modern British history that contributed to the creation of the Race Relations Act 1965 – the first UK law to prohibit racial discrimination. However, few books on the boycott exist. These resources give the perspective of the participants. They include an introduction and links to videos, interviews and more detailed primary sources, as well as guidance for teachers to create lesson plans.  Teachers may lack the confidence to raise the issue of racial discrimination. Students may have experienced discrimination, witnessed it (such as at football matches or in other public settings) or even perpetrated it themselves. Some might want to talk about their experiences but you can make it clear that no one need share if it makes them uncomfortable. 

An introduction and lesson materials

The Black Curriculum, KS3 Learning Activities: Bristol Bus Boycott

published by The Black Curriculum

This PDF is a five-page resource with a link to a video about the history of the boycott, questions and a research task. This publication could form the basis of a lesson on the boycott, including some class discussion, answering of closed questions and a research and writing task.

A video interview

Black British Stories: Vernon Samuels – The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963

published by BBC Teach Primary Resources

Although the title indicates that this resource is for KS2, the materials are suitable for teaching an in-depth, local history study of Bristol at KS3 – the video interviewer is a 13-year-old student. The five-minute video features an interview with Vernon Samuels, who represented Britain in the 1988 Olympics. Vernon tells the story of the boycott and how his father then became the first Black bus driver in Bristol.
This resource includes teacher notes with ideas for discussion before watching the video, questions to ask during the film, a glossary and activities for further learning. It could form the basis of a lesson and follow-up work. 

A first hand account

Memoirs of a Black Englishman

by Paul Stephenson and Lilleith Morrison, published by Tangent Books, (2011), 9781910089972

Paul Stephenson was one of the activists who led the Bristol Bus Boycott and opened discussion of the city’s role in the 18th-century slave trade. His memoir covers his experiences in the RAF, the campaign against racial discrimination on the Bristol buses, and his later work as a community relations officer. This is a positive first-hand account about how campaigning against injustice can achieve results.
Starting with excerpts of Stephenson’s account of the boycott, you could ask students to research the ‘colour bar’ in the 1960s that allowed the Bristol Bus Company to refuse to employ Black drivers. You could also compare and contrast the civil rights movements in the UK and the USA. 

Primary sources

Black and white on the buses: the 1963 colour bar dispute in Bristol

by Madge Dresser, published by Bookmarks Publications, (2013), 9781909026506

This 64-page pamphlet explains the ‘colour bar’ dispute in Bristol. It gives a detailed account of the boycott, including the role of key Black activists, the support of some white people and media treatment of the issue. It also considers the viewpoints of white bus drivers and why they felt threatened by Black workers. The conclusion assesses the effectiveness of the boycott. This publication sheds light on the experiences of first-generation Black immigrants to the UK and helps students today to understand what it was like to live with the colour bar. 
The pamphlet includes many quotations from people involved in the dispute. Students could draw on these to identify the different viewpoints at the time: those of the bus company, the drivers’ trade union, Black and white workers, and white people who supported or opposed the boycott. The same webpage has some newspaper articles – students can use these to discover common opinions at the time.

Audiovisual clip

A House Through Time - The end of the slave trade in Bristol

published by BBC, (2020)

An insight into the history preceding the Bus Boycott in Bristol.

Further materials


The Bristol Bus Boycott: A watershed moment for Black Britain, published by Bristol Museums Access this resource
Black and British: A short, essential history by David Olusoga, published by Pan Macmillan, (2020), 9781529063394 Find this book
Bristol’s Black History, published by Bristol’s Free Museums and Historic Houses Access this resource
Cath Senker is a history graduate and non-fiction writer specialising in history titles. She is the author of several books about racism, migration and refugees, including the award-winning Far from home: refugees fleeing war, persecution and poverty (Franklin Watts, 2019). Cath teaches ESOL to vulnerable migrants and refugees on a voluntary basis. She is currently working on new book, which reflects the diversity of the UK’s population, called A Very Peculiar History: Great Britons.

Text © Cath Senker, 2020.