Asquith Xavier

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Asquith Xavier
Asquith Xavier.jpg
Xavier on the platform of Euston railway station on 15 August 1966.
Born18 July 1920
Dominica
Died18 June 1980
Chatham, Kent
MonumentsPlaque, Euston railway station, London, England
NationalityDominican, British
Known forFirst non-white train guard at Euston railway station, England

Asquith Camile Xavier (18 July 1920 – 18 June 1980) was a West Indian-born Briton who ended a colour bar at British Railways in London by fighting to become the first non-white train guard at Euston railway station in 1966.[1][2][3] Trevor Phillips, when chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said in 2006: "Asquith's stand against discrimination brought to light the inadequacy of early race discrimination laws and persistent widespread discrimination faced by ethnic minorities."[4] A plaque at the station commemorates his achievement.[5]

Early life[edit]

Xavier was born on 18 July 1920 in Dominica, which was then a British colony. He was a member of the Windrush generation of British African-Caribbean people who migrated to the United Kingdom after the Second World War to fill vacancies in service industries.[citation needed]

Discrimination[edit]

Xavier joined British Railways. In 1966 he was working as a guard at Marylebone station in central London. He applied for a promotion and transfer to work at Euston station, but was rejected. A letter from a staff committee at Euston—which was dominated by members of the National Union of Railwaymen—explained that it was because of his colour. Unions and management had informally agreed in the 1950s 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.[citation needed]

The Race Relations Act of 1965 had made discrimination on "grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins" unlawful in public places in Great Britain (but not Northern Ireland). Xavier could not use this legislation to further his case as it did not cover workplaces.[6]

Xavier persisted. A union official publicised the rejection by writing a letter of protest to the head of the National Union of Railwaymen on his behalf.[7] Two members of parliament wrote to the secretary of state for transport, Barbara Castle,[8] to ask her to direct British Railways to end racial discrimination.

On 15 July 1966 British Railways announced that colour bars at stations in London had been abandoned. Xavier was offered the job with his pay backdated to May, the month when he had been originally rejected.[9] Xavier could not take up the job immediately because he was recovering from hospital treatment for an ulcer. He received hate mail and death threats, and asked for police protection. He started work on 15 August 1966.[10]

Death[edit]

Xavier died on 18 June 1980 in Chatham, Kent.[11]

In the media[edit]

Oona King presented a BBC Radio 4 documentary, Asquith's Fight for Equality, about his story in 2016—the fiftieth anniversary of his victory.[12] In the same year, The One Show on BBC One television interviewed Xavier's family and covered the unveiling of the plaque at Euston station that marked his fight.[13]

In September 2020, a second plaque was unveiled in Chatham, his home for many years, in the waiting room of the local station.[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Euston staff 'colour bar' ended". On This Day. BBC News. 15 July 1966. Archived from the original on 7 March 2008. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
  2. ^ Oona King, "Asquith's Fight for Equality", BBC Radio 4, 2016-10-26.
  3. ^ "RAILWAY COLOR BAR IS BROKEN IN LONDON". The New York Times. 16 July 1966. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  4. ^ "FIRST-CLASS HERO: Forty years ago, this man changed the face of race relations in Britain after beating a colour bar on the railways". The Mirror. MGN. 15 July 2006. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  5. ^ Thorpe, Stewart (13 June 2019). "RailStaff June 2019: An unsung hero". RailStaff. Retrieved 4 June 2020.
  6. ^ "1965: New UK race law 'not tough enough'". On This Day. BBC News. 8 December 1965. Retrieved 26 July 2018.
  7. ^ "Colour bar protest over railman". The Times. London, England. 11 July 1966. p. 12.
  8. ^ "Coloured Workers - Hansard". hansard.parliament.uk. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  9. ^ "Asquith Xavier: Pioneering black train guard 'omitted' from history lessons". BBC News. 17 July 2020. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  10. ^ Mirror Reporter (16 August 1966). "CLOCKING ON .. A RAIL PIONEER". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  11. ^ https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk/ 1980, page 9728. "XAVIER, Asquith Camile of 31 Grove Rd Chatham died 18 June 1980 Administration Brighton 14 July £1400 800603634V"
  12. ^ Oona King, "Asquith's Fight for Equality", BBC Radio 4, 2016-10-26.
  13. ^ "Busting the colour bar". The One Show. BBC One. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2018.
  14. ^ "Asquith Xavier: Plaque honours train guard who fought Whites-only policy". BBC News. 24 September 2020. Retrieved 24 September 2020.

External links[edit]