Here’s Why This Jamaican-born Civil Rights Activist Could Have Been Britain’s Martin Luther King



He was an unsung hero in many British homes. Despite being recognized by Queen Elizabeth II for his unwavering activism, Roy Hackett’s achievements were not as widely publicized as those of Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks.

He was born and raised in Trench Town, Jamaica, and worked as a bookkeeper until 1952, when he moved to England. He was among the immigrants who answered the call to rebuild England after it was devastated by World War II. At the age of 24, he decided to relocate to England in search of greener pastures. He lived in London and Wolverhampton before relocating to Bristol. At Bristol, he encountered the most heinous form of racism. He spent his first night outside because no landlord would rent him a room.

He later found a home with his cousin, Irving Williams, who shared it with three other people. During a conversation with Black activist Owen Henry, he realized the importance of taking concrete steps to end racism against the Black community in employment and housing. Following the Montgomery bus boycott in the United States, he joined forces with some friends to launch their own civil rights campaign in 1963.

His first anti-racism evangelism came when he met a Black man who was crying because a bus company would not hire him because of the color of his skin. Enraged by the man’s story, Hackett is said to have stormed the company’s (the Bristol Omnibus Co.) offices and told management that if the Black man couldn’t be taught to drive, the buses would be shut down.

Hackett then led a four-month protest that helped to change Britain’s attitude toward race relations. Following the Black boycott of the Bristol Omnibus Co., long-standing unofficial racism in Britain was reformed in law and practice. Prior to the boycott, it was acceptable for a landlord to refuse to rent to a Black man. The argument for bus companies was that having Black employees would discourage white passengers from using their services.

Even before Hackett started a movement to keep the protest going, many cities in England began removing “no Blacks” signs and hiring non-white bus and train drivers, as well as station staff. Bristol, on the other hand, was adamant about the wind of change that was blowing across England.

Hackett is credited with persuading Harold Wilson’s Labor government to pass Britain’s first anti-racist legislation. This was made possible by the widespread support for the boycott, which included local MP Tony Benn and Wilson, who was then the leader of the opposition. Raghbir Singh became Bristol’s first non-white bus conductor as a result of his advocacy.

Hackett was born on September 19, 1928. He died on August 3, 2022. He was survived by three children. “He could have been Britain’s Martin Luther King if he had the same PR,” Kehinde Andrews, a Black studies professor at Birmingham City University, said in an interview with Metro newspaper. Andrews added that Hackett “was the one that could galvanize the community, working at a grass-roots level.”


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