Wilston Samuel Jackson dedicated his life to the railways despite facing racism during his career. Born in Jamaica, he moved to the UK in 1952 as part of the Windrush generation. Not too long after, Jackson who was known as Bill began maintaining trains. Soon, he moved from his maintenance role to a position managing train boilers.
With his new position, he would spend a day shoveling coal in hot and filthy conditions before going back home to study for his driver exams. By 10 years, he had become a train driver but not without facing backlash, especially from his White colleagues.
Jackson had become a train driver at a time when many Black people who had attempted doing so had their applications blocked due to racism. Jackson was determined, as he beat the odds to become Britain’s first Black train driver. In 1962 when he began his new role, his White colleagues tried so many times to prevent White men from working under him but they failed.
And then two years after making history, Jackson broke both his legs when his train crashed into the back of a stationary goods train near Finsbury Park, north London. This was after a signalman mistakenly gave a green light.
Jackson recovered and returned to the rails. He would have a long and successful career that even included him driving the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive. He later emigrated to Zambia where he taught people how to drive trains. He died in September 2018, at the age of 91.
Last month, a plaque commemorating Jackson was unveiled at one of the country’s busiest stations. At the unveiling of the blue plaque at King’s Cross station, Jackson’s daughter spoke about how dedicated her father was to his work. “He was never late or missed a day, and he was so proud of his work, despite the many challenges he faced,” said Polly Jackson.
“Today was a fitting tribute to his life and career.”
Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said he is fascinated to learn about Jackson’s life and rail career. “He was a real trailblazer for our industry and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his incredible service, made even more remarkable by the many obstacles he had to overcome.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers union Aslef, said: “We are incredibly proud to have had Wilston as one of our own, a dedicated driver with an illustrious and ground-breaking career.”
Despite Jamaican-born Jackson being appointed as Britain’s first Black train driver nearly 60 years ago, only 10% of Britain’s drivers are currently from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, according to figures cited by train drivers union Aslef.
In light of this, Aslef said it continues to campaign for change across the sector and for a driving grade that represents 21st century Britain.
“This blue plaque is fitting recognition of that,” general secretary of the union Whelan said.