In the 1940s, the mass exodus of Afro-Caribbean people to the United Kingdom occurred. Due to the casualties of war, more inhabitants of the Caribbean were encouraged to migrate to countries under British jurisdiction. Out of this was born the Windrush generation. The immigrants were to serve as a buffer for the loss of life during World War II.
Asquith Xavier was part of the Windrush generation, moving to England from Dominica after World War Two. Born on July 18, 1920, on the island of Dominica, he arrived in England in the 1950s and settled in Paddington, West London. He started work for British Railways in 1956 as a porter before moving up to rail guard at Marylebone station in London.
In 1966, the freight link at Marylebone depot was closed so Xavier applied for a transfer to London Euston station but his application was rejected because of a whites-only recruitment policy. Management of the station told him that he could not get the job because of an unofficial “color bar” operating at the station, which did not allow Black people to work in customer-facing roles, Camealia Xavier-Chihota, a granddaughter of Xavier, would explain years later.
Not okay with the station decision, Asquith started campaigning to end the racial discrimination practiced by British Rail. Parliament and the then Secretary of State for Transport Barbara Castle heard his story and took action. On July 15, 1966, British Railways announced that the whites-only recruitment policy had been scrapped.
On August 15, 1966, Dominica-born Xavier became the first Black guard to be employed at Euston Station but not everyone welcomed this decision. According to his granddaughter Xavier-Chihota, he received death threats from the public and so required Police protection on his way to and from work.
In 1972, Xavier and his family moved from London to Chatham, Kent, where he went to work at Euston every day by train. Not too long after, he had health problems and passed away in 1980. In 2016, decades after his death, he was recognized with a plaque. Four years later, which would have been his 100th birthday, a brass mural giving details about how he beat racial injustice in Britain was unveiled in Chatham, Kent thanks to the efforts of his granddaughter Xavier-Chihota.
“It’s the place that he called home. He traveled from this platform to Euston every day and it’s the place where he raised his family and where he was laid to rest,” she said.
“We owe so much to those who challenged racism on the railway in an era when it was all pervasive,” Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said at the time. “The union remains eternally vigilant in the fight against racism and it is important we remember Asquith Xavier and those trade unionists who blazed a trail for us over five decades ago.”