Black and white in Bristol

There is a long history of black people living in Bristol. In the popular imagination though, it is often believed that black people moved to Britain and to cities like Bristol only in the last 50 or so years. This may be because, before the 1940s and ’50s, there were very few black people in Bristol. They fitted in fairly easily, and some seemed to have married local people. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries many of them were slaves. In the 19th century we know of at least one runaway African-American slave living here. There are references to a few servants and young seamen as well. More free men and women came in the 20th century. In the 1940s there may have been a few black men in the city as people in the Caribbean joined the British army and air force to fight for the ‘motherland’ in the Second World War. And the recruitment of black workers into the city began when the British government needed people to fill job vacancies in the public services. They advertised for workers to come from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth . Many people answered the advertisements. Often they planned to work in Britain for a few years and then go ‘home’. But often they stayed instead, and settled for life. Those who came to Bristol encountered real hostility from a significant part of the white population but despite this managed to make a living and become increasingly accepted as part of the wider community.