Paul Stephenson OBE, was born in Essex in May 1937, where he encountered racism throughout his entire childhood. After completing his education and National Service, Paul moved to Bristol.
Shortly after arriving in 1963, a Bristol-based bus firm refused to employ black or Asian people, outraged by this blatant racism Paul founded the West Indian Development Council to campaign against such injustices.
The group organised a successful boycott of the firm, and within six months the ban was lifted.
Paul then went on to achieve nationwide fame for refusing to leave a pub until he was served by defying their ‘no blacks’ policy. The Bristol bus boycott and Paul’s resulting arrest helped to push race into the national news and change public opinion about the treatment of black people living in Britain. It even resulted in the Labour Leader at the time, Harold Wilson, to pass the first Race Relations Act in 1965.
Later in his career, Paul worked with Muhammad Ali, the world-famous boxer, setting up the Muhammad Ali Sports Development Association (MASDA) in Brixton. MASDA encouraged black and ethnic minority children to participate in sports they may not have tried before, such as tennis and angling.
In retirement, Paul has led the Bristol Legacy commission to improve education in Bristol’s schools and has been a campaigner in the successful fight to rename Colston Hall, which has links to the slave trade. In 2007, he was granted the Freedom of the City of Bristol, being the first black person to be honoured. Paul was then awarded an OBE in 2009, for his services to equal opportunities and to community relations in Bristol.
The work, courage, principles and determination of Paul were instrumental in making Britain a more open and tolerant place. He has changed the way we all live for the better, and his story reminds us that the battle for civil rights was not confined to America.