Bristol's first black bus driver dies aged 76
A MAN whose determination helped reshape the face of public transport in Bristol has died.
Born in Clarendon, Jamaica, in 1936, Norman Samuels became the first black man allowed to drive a bus in the city.
He will go down in history as one of the men at the forefront of the long-running but ultimately successful anti-racism campaign against the Bristol Omnibus Company.
In the early 1960s the company still refused to even consider applications from black people to work on the buses – a situation which became known as the 'colour bar'.
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Mr Samuels was one of five non-whites who originally worked on the buses as conductors.
His determination to succeed then saw him go on to become the first black man behind the wheel in 1964.
His son Vernon said: "He became a driver the same day as I was born so hopefully it was a day he didn't forget. He had heard there was a driver's job going and he went for it. They actually made him sit a simulated test which he failed but he told them it wasn't anything like being on the road and demanded they get a current white driver to take it.
"They agreed and that driver failed as well so they allowed him to take his test on the road and he passed.
"He said on the day he took his test people lined the route because they just could not believe a black man could be behind the wheel of a bus in Bristol. I think he stayed on the buses for the next 14 years."
However passing the test was only the first step towards ethnic minorities being accepted on Bristol's buses.
"Even when he was a conductor he would struggle to get other staff members to work with him," Vernon said. "When he became a driver he would say some people would not get on the bus because there was a black driver.
"He said sometimes he would find it funny because people would be late for work and rush on and only noticed it was a black driver when it was too late.
"He also used to say there was one white woman who always wanted to work with him. He was convinced that she was lazy because fewer people would get on his bus.
"It took a long time for him to be accepted and for people to realise that black drivers were just as able as white ones.
"There was a fear from people that foreigners were coming over and taking their jobs."
Vernon said although his father was proud of what he had accomplished, for him it was more about securing a job and providing for his three children – David, Vernon, and Rachel.
"He decided that he had to challenge the situation, speaking at several meetings before confronting the status quo by seeking employment as a bus conductor then a driver for the Bristol Omnibus Company," Vernon said. "There was this racial backdrop of course but he was very interested in securing a good job that was well paid so he could buy his own home in Bristol."
Mr Samuels came to Bristol in 1969 setting up home in St Paul's where he lived in a house with three other families.
His plan was to come to England and save some money and get an education before returning home in five years' time.
After working on the buses Mr Samuels worked for Dixons in Broadmead as a senior salesman until 1983.
He divorced first wife Hermie in the late 1970s but married again in June 1984, this time to Eileen.
Soon after getting married the couple sold up, returned to Jamaica and remained there until kidney failure caused Mr Samuels to come back to Britain in 1990 for treatment and he remained in Bristol until his death on February 13.
Last month the Transport and General Workers Union, which amalgamated in 2007 to form Unite, issued an apology for condemning the 1963 boycott of Bristol buses – a movement led by campaigner Paul Stephenson OBE.
His funeral takes place at 11am, on Friday at Tudor Road Church of God of Prophecy, 2 Tudor Road, Bristol BS5, with the burial at Avon View cemetery, Redfield, and the reception at Rose Green Sports and Leisure (RGSL), Whitehall.