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ROCKING CHAIR STORIES – First Black in seat

Tony Vanterpool

ROCKING CHAIR STORIES – First Black in seat

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HAVING DISCOVERED that a colour bar existed in a section of the British railway system, a young Barbadian immigrant vowed to change it.
Today I have invited the first Black to serve on the board of Britain’s National Union of Railways [NUR] to share that experience, among others, in The Rocking Chair.
Reuben Rollock explained: “It wasn’t easy; it took a lot of manoeuvring. I discovered, for instance, that we had a population of about sixty Blacks working on the trains and we didn’t have any representation. So I decided to offer myself as a candidate in the election of the Sectional Council of the Transport Board [Underground System] for three years. But nobody thought I would have been successful.”
He continued: “There were the Irish, the Scots and so on, but nobody thought I would make it. To some extent they were right. I didn’t make it the first time or the second but noted an increase in the number of votes second time around.“
Meanwhile, some of the Blacks who voted told the delinquent ones, ‘If you had come out, Rollock would have won’.“
On the third occasion I had a spot of luck. The largest number of board members ever turned out. There was a row between the Irish and the English divisions, the two largest. Since it was double voting, the Irish guy said to me: ‘You tell your people to vote for me and I will do the same; I will take you to a meeting and introduce you; you can do similarly.“
When his whites joined with my blacks, it was a very large amount,” Reuben recounted. 
“The voting took place in the boxes at all the various depots. These were then forwarded to headquarters at 55 Broadway [London] where the boxes were opened and the votes counted. The results were forwarded to the board, which would certify the winners.”
With his victory, coming against the background of the colour situation which existed, Reuben Rollock now occupied an office at Great Portland Street. 
“We had nine sectional offices and would meet at 55 Broadway at least twice a month for discussions with management of the London Transport and sometimes the Minister of Transport.”
Having established himself as the first black person to serve on the Sectional Council [for 17 years], he was able to raise negative issues concerning Blacks from time to time but, he recalled, “In the beginning I was like a silent member. I would watch those elderly members arriving for meetings in their bowler hats and puffing away on pipes and doubt my ability to be participating in the debates. But after about three meetings an elderly member came up to me and said: ‘We never hear you speak so we don’t know what you are thinking’.”
From then on, there was no holding back for Reuben.