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Women with pilot goggles

October is Black History Month in the UK.  It has been fantastic to see the ways in which people have been encouraged to talk about and celebrate the achievements of Black people in Britain. 

At JFG Comms we thought this would be a great opportunity to celebrate Black women who have contributed to the transport industry over the years. So we set about researching. 

Who were the first Black women transport workers in Britain?

During our research, we came across some fantastic Black female role models within the transport industry, and also some men too. Below we’ve profiled two Black British men, as well as two Black American women who have helped inspire future generations of transport workers. 

As the two women we have profiled were American, we thought it would be great to find out more about women in Britain. The first Black bus and train drivers in the UK were both men. We’d love to profile the Black women who were early trailblazers in the UK transport industry. So we’re reaching out to see if you can help us find them? The lack of information is not surprising. Transport is another area where the achievements of Black British women have been overlooked. We want to change that and we’re keen to identify the first Black female bus and train drivers in the UK. We’d like to profile these women alongside current Black female role models within the transport industry. Please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with any information you have.

Britain’s first Black train driver

Winston Samuel Jackson moved to England in 1952 from Jamaica. In those days there was an unspoken rule that a Black man could never become a train driver. This made him determined to be a driver. 

For years he shovelled 10 to 12 tons of coal a day in his fireman’s job, working in hot and dirty conditions. In 1962, he was overjoyed to pass his exams enabling him to become a locomotive driver, and Britain’s first Black train driver. 

London’s first Black bus driver

Joe Clough was born in Jamaica in 1887. At the age of 18, he moved to London, where he learnt to drive and worked as a chauffer for a doctor.

In 1910, Joe applied to work at London General Omnibus Company and he became a spare driver. He passed his bus driving test and started driving a number 11 B type bus between Liverpool Street and Wormwood Scrubs. He was the first Black London bus driver. 

The first Black women to work in London transport 

In the 1950s and 60s, London Transport recruited hundreds of young West Indian women. The majority of these women were assigned to catering because in those days, women were not allowed to be bus drivers. But women were allowed to be bus conductors and Agatha Claudette Hart is recorded as one of the first Black women conductors. 

The first Black female pilot 

In our search for Black female transport trailblazers, we found the story of Bessie Coleman to be particularly inspirational. Bessie Coleman is best known for being the first Black female pilot. At the age of 23, she was inspired to become a pilot by her brothers who were serving in the military during World War I. Bessie applied to many flight schools but suffered rejection due to being both Black and a woman. She was later advised to move to France where she would be allowed to learn to fly. After taking French lessons, Bessie finally travelled to France in 1920, and received her International Pilot’s Licence in June 1921.

Bessie then went on to pursue her dream to own her own plane and flight school. Committed to promoting aviation and combating racism, she gave speeches and showed films of her tricks to earn money. But she refused to speak anywhere that segregated or discriminated against Black people. In 1922, she performed the first public flight by a Black woman. After this she spent her time giving flight lessons, performing in-flight shows and encouraging Black people and women to learn to fly. Bessie Coleman was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1926. In the years following her death, she has received many honours and tributes in recognition of her work.

The first Black female leader of a US transit authority

In 1983 Carmen Turner made history as the first Black woman to lead a major US transit agency. Carmen’s appointment as general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) saw her running one of the largest transit systems in the USA.

Carmen began her government career in administrative support positions for various US federal agencies. She worked her way up through the ranks before moving to the US Department of Transportation in 1974. In 1977 she began working for the WMATA as chief of administration. Six years later she made history after being promoted to general manager.

Carmen earned widespread praise for her achievements at WMATA, which included overseeing a 40% expansion of the agency’s Metrorail service, from 42 miles and 47 stations to 73 miles and 63 stations. Daily ridership levels also grew significantly in line with the expansion.

Following her death in 1992, the WMATA named their new training facility in Maryland after Carmen Turner, in recognition of her contributions while leading the agency.

It has been wonderful to research and profile these men and women for Black History Month. They have each made a significant contribution to the transport industry, while at the same time inspiring future generations.