Wilson Samuel Jackson – The First Black Train Driver

Our late Father, Wilston Samuel Jackson, Bill to his friends, was born in the Jamaican parish of Portland in 1927.


At age 17, his 45 year old father died suddenly, shattering Bill’s dreams of being a dentist. Bill decided to move to England, the Mother Land, where workers were needed to help rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War. Arriving in London in 1952, Bill was shocked to be met with blatant racism, something he had never experienced in Jamaica. Regardless of the hostility, he determined to become a train driver.

In those days there were no Black train drivers, an unspoken rule that the driver’s job was reserved for whites only. Even fellow Black railway workers believed a Black man could never become a driver, many quitting their rail jobs because of the lack of prospects. Bill remained resolute. For years, never late or missing a day, Bill endured a fireman’s punishing regime, shovelling 10 to 12 tons of coal a day in hot and filthy conditions. He was overjoyed when in 1962 he passed his exams with flying colours to become a fully-fledged locomotive driver and The First Black Train Driver. But his troubles were not over. His white colleagues were astonished and furious that Bill was now a driver and so they organised, forbidding any white man to work with Bill.

On Bill’s first day as a driver, he was congratulated by the white foreman on his achievement and told to prepare an engine to take out. What happened next would have crushed a lesser man, as while Bill was happily preparing the engine his allotted fireman told him he would not work with him. The fireman then repeated his decision to the foreman, who, surprisingly, told the fireman to go home as he no longer had a job. The traumatised fireman returned to where Bill was preparing the engine and asked if he could work with him. Bill replied, ‘I don’t have a problem with you, it is you who have a problem with me.  If you do your job well, we’ll get along fine’. Years later, Bill saved another fireman’s life.

In 1966 Bill immigrated to Zambia, formerly Southern Rhodesia, where he continued to drive trains throughout that vast country, later becoming a farmer and helping his neighbours by arranging the erection of an iron bridge over a river.

In acknowledgement of Bill’s achievement, a commentative blue plaque was exhibited in the offices at Kings Cross train station the year before his death. Sadly through illness he never got to see it. We will now be pressing for a National Heritage Blue Plaque as these are only eligible for the deceased.

Bill passed away at age 91 on 15th September 2018.