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Plaque to be unveiled for Chatham man who overturned racist policy

A commemorative plaque is set to be unveiled at Chatham train station to honour Asquith Xavier, who battled to overturn racist employment policy in the 1960s.

The RMT Union announced on Saturday that the plaque will be unveiled next month, to honour Mr Xavier, who lived for six years in Chatham after gaining employment as a train guard.

Asquith Xavier, from Chatham, was the first black train guard at London Euston. Picture: National Railway Museum
Asquith Xavier, from Chatham, was the first black train guard at London Euston. Picture: National Railway Museum

Mr Xavier had arrived in the UK from the West Indies in 1958, and eight years later was refused a job on the railways in London because of his colour.

He had applied for promotion at London's Euston station for a job as a guard, but was turned down in May 1966 because British Railways (BR) was only taking on white people as guards or ticket collectors.

A union official wrote a letter of protest to the head of the National Union of Railwaymen on his behalf and two MPs wrote to then Transport Secretary Barbara Castle, asking her to intervene - and on July 15, 1966, British Rail announced such racist policies at London stations had been abandoned.

Mr Asquith was offered the job with his pay backdated to May, and has gone down in history for his achievement.

A plaque had been erected in his memory at Euston in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of the change of policy.

This year - 100 years after Mr Xavier's birth on July 18, 1920 on the Caribbean island of Dominica - Medway Labour leader Cllr Vince Maple wrote to Network Rail and Southeastern asking them to follow suit by installing a plaque in Chatham.

Cllr Vince Maple, Labour, Medway Council
Cllr Vince Maple, Labour, Medway Council

He welcomed news this week and said he had already seen plans for the memorial, which is set to be placed on the London-bound platform.

"It looks like it's going to be more than a blue plaque," he said. "It's 3ft by 4ft and will be an image of him alongside that something to tell his story.

"It's pretty inspiring. I think it's really important that we recognise our recent modern history. Asquith Xavier had clearly played an important role in bringing down barriers and it's great that we recognise that both here in Chatham and London. He literally would have got on the train at that station and left from that platform.

"He lived in Chatham for a good period of time and his family still live here, and they've done a really great job in amplifying his history."

Cllr Maple also thanked National Rail, Southeastern and the RMT for their support in the project.

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