Diversity UK yesterday honoured race equality campaigner Paul Stephenson OBE with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on diversity and inclusion. Mr Stephenson was presented with his award by Helen Grant MP, Dilip Joshi MBE, Chair of Diversity UK and Anil Bhanot OBE, Chair of the Ethnic Minority Foundation, on Wednesday 23rd November 2016. Helen Grant MP, who gave the first Diversity UK lecture named in Paul Stephenson’s honour, spoke about the need to celebrate and recognise the contribution he has made to race equality. “His courage paved the way for me and for many of us in this room to pursue our own hopes and dreams,” she said, “and in doing what he did, he made this country a better, fairer, happier and more equal place”. She said that Paul Stephenson was a true inspiration.
As a young social worker, in 1963 Stephenson led a boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Company, protesting against its refusal to employ Black or Asian drivers or conductors. After a 60-day boycott supported by thousands of Bristolians, the company revoked its colour bar in August and later employed its first non-white bus conductor, an Asian, Raghbir Singh.
Mr Stephenson’s campaigning did not end there as Anil Bhanot OBE explained in his citation of Paul, “those were the years when posters displaying signs of ‘no Blacks, no Irish, no Dogs’ were not uncommon and in 1964 Paul Stephenson got arrested for taking too long to finish his half pint of beer in a Bristol pub. He was, however, later acquitted of that. But all this activism against racial discrimination resulted in the Race Relations Act in 1965.”
“Coincidentally in America, thanks to Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act also came into force in 1965, which allowed Blacks a vote for the first time there. Whilst Martin Luther King has rightly earned his place in world history it seems to me Paul Stephenson’s name has been overlooked, whitewashed from British history. “
“We need Paul Stephenson’s name in the history books for people to understand and identify with the struggles of that first ever British Black movement. It’s always the first movements which are significant when we write laws on a blank canvas.”
In his acceptance speech, Mr Stephenson urged the audience “to do their duty to stand up to racism and tackle the challenges for the sake of their children and their children’s children”. He later signed copies of his book ‘Memoirs of a Black Englishman’ (Tangent Books) for members of Diversity UK and guests that included representatives of the British Army, Hindu Lawyers Association, Metropolitan Hindu Association, Black Cultural Archives, Runnymede Trust, the Civil Service and the media.