Bristol civil rights leader and founder of the St Pauls Carnival Roy Hackett received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol today – at his funeral.
The posthumous award was given to Mr Hackett’s family by the deputy vice-chancellor and provost of Bristol Uni, Prof Judith Squires, who said it was ‘a great sadness’ that delays due to Covid meant they were not able to give the award at a graduation ceremony before he died.
The pioneer of Britain’s civil rights movement, who led the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 that paved the way for the Race Relations Act of 1965, Roy Hackett passed away in early August, at the age of 93.
His funeral took place on Friday, September 16, at a packed Elim Church in Kingsdown in Bristol – his cortege passing through his community in St Pauls, before making a detour to pause outside the city’s bus station.
As well as the eulogies, tributes, readings, hymns and sermons at the funeral, there was one special moment where an official ceremony to bestow an honorary degree took place. Bristol Live understands that Mr Hackett’s family were given the option of attending a graduation ceremony to accept the award posthumously, but were keen for it to take place at his funeral, in front of family, friends and loved ones.
Prof Squires told the mourners: “Each year, the University of Bristol bestows a small number of honorary degrees on distinguished individuals who merit special recognition for outstanding achievement in an area that aligns with the mission and values of the University. An honorary degree is one of higher education’s most significant accolades.
“It was with great pride that we looked forward to awarding Roy Hackett an honorary degree, to mark the esteem in which we held his achievements. A truly inspirational individual, who challenged racial injustice throughout his life and inspired countless others in the process, making a palpable difference to the lives of generations to come, Roy Hackett is eminently worthy of an honorary degree,” she added.
“It is a great sadness that, due to Covid, we were not able to award this honorary degree to Roy in person at one of our Graduation Ceremonies. We are grateful to the family for inviting us to join the funeral today, and for accepting this degree on his behalf,” she added, before formally admitting Roy Hackett to the degree of Doctor of Letters.
The award meant that, in advance, the family were able to add the title ‘Doctor’ to the inscription on his coffin, and on the order of service booklets printed for the funeral, which were created to be Jamaican passports.
Prof Squires was introduced by Rebecca Scott MBE, who is a senior leader at the university and has run a number of projects to increase the number of people from Bristol’s Black communities who work there.
She said while she did not know Roy on a personal level, but their paths had crossed over the years. “I instead knew him for his work in civil rights, but on the occasions that I was privileged to share a space with him, Roy’s kindness, humour, authenticity and humbleness always stood out,” she said.
She said that, after the successful bus boycott, in 1965 Roy did begin a course at the university. “Roy was passionate about education and in 1965 he attended the Extra Mural Department of Bristol University to study family law; unfortunately, he couldn’t continue as he needed to prioritise supporting his wife and children,” she said, adding that it was an honour to bestow the degree on Roy.
“Honorary degrees are a universities’ way to recognise an individual’s outstanding contribution in specific fields and we are truly honoured to be here today so that Roy, one of the seven saints of St Pauls, can receive his degree to recognise his life-long campaign against racism which brought us the Bristol Bus Boycott and paved the way for the Race Relations Act in 1965,” she said.
“As someone who works in Human Resources the Race Relations Act which evolved ever so slightly over the years was the start of employment opportunities for people who look like I do and in current times, his work has been used to inform racial equity, diversity and inclusion actions across organisations – thank you, Roy,” she added.