Newham, London: Asquith Xavier breaks the colour bar

  Euston Station Guards Inspector Philip Howard hands over equipment to West Indian guard Asquith Xavier at Euston Station, London, 15th August 1966. Xavier is the first black guard to work at the station and has told British Rail that he expects protection. Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When

1966

Where

Euston Station, London

When Asquith Xavier applied to work as a guard at Euston Station, a letter from the local staff committee at Euston informed him that the station did not accept “coloured men” in that post.

The committee included members of the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR). After ten years working at Marylebone Station, Asquith had found himself up against the ‘colour bar’ in operation at Euston.

Asquith Xavier’s contribution to the struggle for equality, inclusion and justice is noteworthy as every ‘small victory’ was massive in breaking down the walls of racial prejudice, ignorance and intolerance.

Lord Herman Ouseley

Asquith had support from members of his local Asian, Jewish and Irish communities and a NUR colleague at Marylebone, Jim Prendergast, who gave the story to the press. The Minister for Transport, Barbara Castle, emphasised to parliament:

“…the need for vigilance to prevent discrimination, and for every endeavour to resolve these difficulties when they do arise, as in the case that has recently received so much publicity.”

Eventually an agreement was reached, and five months after receiving the original letter, Asquith began work at Euston in August 1966. It was a hard-won victory, as he received death threats and needed a police escort to work, all of which affected Asquith’s long term health. In 2016 a plaque was unveiled at Euston commemorating Asquith’s struggle.

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