Bristol Boycott bus design

Bus design winner marks Bristol Bus Boycott anniversary

A specially designed bus to mark the 60th anniversary of the Bristol Bus Boycott has been unveiled today as the city marked the iconic moment in race relations history.

The winner of the competition to design the double decker bus says she hopes she has given the moment in history the “justice and recognition it deserves”.

Today, Bristol illustrator and animator 32-year-old Alissa Thaler was announced as the winner of First West of England’s competition to create a special design to mark the boycott’s milestone year.

At an unveiling at the bus operator’s Lawrence Hill depot in north Bristol earlier today (30th August), Miss Thaler said it was a great honour to be given the opportunity to tell this important story in Bristol’s history.

The four-month Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 was sparked after bus operators introduced a new rule banning Black and Asian people from becoming drivers and conductors.

In the 1960s, Bristol’s bus services were operated by Bristol Joint Services, owned by the Corporation of Bristol and the privately owned Bristol Omnibus Company, whose workers belonged to the Transport and General Workers’ Union.

In 1955, the local branch of the union passed a resolution to ban Black or Asian people from working as bus conductors and drivers. This policy was exposed by the Bristol Evening Post in 1961, sparking the launch of a new campaign group.

Inspired by the events of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, in which Rosa Parks and other community activists refused to give up their seats, a boycott of Bristol’s entire bus network began on 30 April 1963, lasting for four months. It ended in August 1963 when the Bristol Omnibus Company was finally forced to end its ‘colour bar’. The campaign helped pave the way for the UK’s Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968.

Alissa’s winning design is dominated by the colours of the Jamaican flag in recognition of Guy Bailey, who was refused a job as a bus driver - sparking the Bristol Bus Boycott.

His face, alongside other boycott pioneers, features on the bus, helping to tell the story from the arrival of the Windrush generation through to the boycott protests and subsequent introduction of the Race Relations Act 1965 and employment in Bristol of the city’s first Asian bus conductor Raghbir Singh and other drivers and conductors, including Norman Samuels, Norris Edwards, Abbas Ali and Mohammed Raschid.

Alissa Thaler said: “I just hope people like the design, and that I’ve told the story. It will be amazing if this bus helps more people learn about it, especially children. I really hope it creates a sense of community, and the spirit of what’s happened over these past 60 years continues.” 

Alissa, who was originally reluctant to enter the competition because she felt as a white European woman it wasn’t “my history to tell”, says that once she started to research the boycott and sketch her design she realised: “this is everyone’s history, and as soon as you step foot into Bristol it’s moments like this that give the city its history, and it should be something that we all care about and help bring out.”

Alissa, who moved to the UK from Italy five years ago, said: “The story of the boycott really highlighted the injustice and frustration for those coming to a country with a promise of work and acceptance, and actually finding that it wasn’t true. But what also really stood out was the courage of people standing up to it.”

While Alissa’s work is normally on a much smaller scale, with animated explainer videos, brand design and editorial illustrations, this is the first time her work has been displayed on such a large scale, measuring in at four metres high and 11 metres long on both sides of the bus.

Bristol’s main bus operator, First Bus, has joined forces with others in the city, including Bristol Ideas, Creative Connex and Curiosity UnLtd, to create the Drive for Change campaign to mark this important milestone in racial equality history.

Doug Claringbold, Managing Director of First West of England, said: “This wonderful design really captures the story of the iconic Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 – an episode in our history which paved the way for today’s Race Relations Act.

“Alissa’s design is not only eye-catching, but it’s also a very poignant reminder of the amazing battle the boycott pioneers fought to bring fairness to this city and its transport network. It was a truly milestone moment in our history, and it’s only fitting that we mark it in such an impressive way. We all can’t wait to see this bus out on the streets of Bristol, sharing it with local residents and passengers.”