It was on 1 December 1955 that a black woman in Montgomery, Alabama was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person.
Rosa Parks had broken racist, segregation laws in her state which stipulated that black Americans must vacate their seats if there were white passengers left standing.
And it was in 1966 that a black man working as a porter at Marylebone station in London was denied promotion as a guard at Euston station.
Asquith Xavier wasn’t allowed to be a guard because unions and management jointly agreed to ban non-white people from jobs at Euston involving contact with the public.
They could be cleaners and labourers, but not guards or ticket collectors.
The cases of Rosa Parks and Asquith Xavier helped to change the law on both sides of the Atlantic and to change attitudes about racism.
Rosa’s act of defiance resulted in a widespread boycott of buses in Montgomery. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation and helped to grow the civil rights movement.
Eventually, she won. Bus segregation was ruled unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In 1950s and early 1960s in the UK, ‘colour bars’ were in place in many London train stations.
When Asquith – a member of the Windrush generation – applied for a job as a guard at London Euston station, he was told that ‘coloured men’ could not be accepted in that post.
Yes, it was that blatant.
Asquith’s colleague in the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR), Jim Prendergast, alerted the press about what happened to him.
It was a pivotal moment in the history of race relations, because it led to media interest, questions in Parliament, and eventually, changes.
On 15 July 1966 British Railways announced that colour bars at stations in London had been abandoned.
In 1968, the new Race Relations Act outlawed racial discrimination in both work and housing.
There is no doubt that the brave stands of Rosa Parks and Asquith Xavier – and the support they received from indignant, anti-racist citizens – helped to change racism in both the USA and the UK.
But really, seven decades later, has that much changed?
▪ Racism, in great part, led to Brexit.
▪ Racism is a destructor of sport.
▪ Racism is the fuel behind right-wing extremism.
People are not born as racists. It is something that’s learnt. That is our one hope. Racism can, and must, be unlearnt.
How? By brave ‘ordinary’ citizens, just like Rosa Parks and Asquith Xavier, making a stand against racism, with the support of good, upstanding, fellow citizens.
Who? You. And me.
- Watch my 1-minute video which asks racists a pertinent question: