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Bristol bus boycott campaigner Roy Hackett dies at 93

The civil rights activist Roy Hackett, who was one of the lead organisers of the Bristol bus boycott, has died at the age of 93.

The 1963 campaign, which lasted four months, mobilised people across the city to stop using Bristol Omnibus Company buses following its refusal to hire black and Asian people. At the time, a “colour bar” in Britain meant that people from minority ethnic backgrounds could legally be banned from housing, employment and public places.

The protests that followed not only forced the company to change its policies, but paved the way in passing the Race Relations Act of 1965 and 1968. Hackett was appointed an OBE in 2009 and an MBE in 2020.

The Bristol lord mayor paid tribute to the civil rights campaigner, saying: “So very sad to hear Bristol civil rights legend Roy Hackett, organiser of the Bristol bus boycott 1963 and founder of St Pauls Carnival has passed away. My thoughts are with Roy’s family and friends at this difficult time.”

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Hackett, who once said he was “born an activist”, grew up in Trench Town in Kingston, Jamaica. He moved to Britain in 1952, living in Liverpool, London and Wolverhampton, before settling in Bristol.

He described his early years in the UK as a “dog’s life”, due to the difficulty in finding employment and housing. “Housing was the biggest problem, because they was strictly against us,” Hackett previously told the Guardian.

A mural in Bristol pays tribute to Roy Hackett
A mural in Bristol pays tribute to Roy Hackett. Photograph: Olumedia/The Guardian

Hackett helped organise the bus boycott alongside Owen Henry, Audley Evans, Prince Brown and Paul Stephenson. Partly inspired by the US civil rights movement, and the successful bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, the group marshalled the city’s 3,000-strong Caribbean community into action.

The boycott, which campaigners announced at a press conference on 29 April 1963, is thought to be the first of its kind in Britain.

Hackett went on to co-found the Commonwealth Coordinated Committee, which set up Bristol’s St Paul’s Carnival in 1968. The group’s campaigns applied pressure on the local council to act on housing and employment. The committee still runs today as the Bristol West Indian Parents and Friends Association.

In 1959, Hackett married his childhood sweetheart Ena, who arrived in Bristol in 1958. He leaves behind three children.

George Ferguson, the former mayor of Bristol, also sent his condolences, saying: “Bristol honours brave 1960s civil rights campaigner who influenced UK racial discrimination legislation.”

The deputy mayor of Bristol, Asher Craig, said: “The transition of Mr Hackett has hit many of us really hard. A humble, principled, freedom fighter – Bristol bus boycott, St Pauls Carnival, Bristol West Indian Parents & Friends Association, Bristol Race Equality Council – his legacy will live on.”

Organisations also paid tribute, with the race equality thinktank Runnymede Trust tweeting it was “deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Roy Hackett, a UK civil rights icon”, while the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “Very sad news. Roy Hackett was one of the leaders of the Bristol bus boycott in 1963, which overturned the colour bar and helped lead to the first Race Relations Act.

“We fought for what we have now. Let’s push it further. Rest in power, Roy.”

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