‘Are you sitting comfortable? …Now I’ll start.’ is how Roy Hackett begins his talk to Year 6 pupils at Glenfrome primary school in 2015, at 86 years old.
This slightly-built man has a made a big impact in the city and is still busy with community activities in St Werburghs. Light and speedy of mind and body, it seems Mr Hackett’s health has been held together by getting involved, a spirit of lightness and a love of telling stories.
Roy was born in St Mary, Jamaica on 18th September 1928. ‘I was the first child of my mother and father and I was brought up by my grandmother’. Her teaching propelled him to a class ahead of his years, where he fought to remain with the older children. ‘I am here to stay in 3rd class and went and sat down…I was very cheeky and I’m still cheeky’ he admits.
Glenfrome’s Year 6 pupils are interested in why he ran away from home, on Good Friday 1944. His father put him to work on his tobacco farm while he preferred to stay in school. His father was not budging. Roy ran. The children ask questions, he answers with their names. He is conscious to translate the occasional Jamaican or older English phrases for his audience.
‘My favourite subject?…You call it maths, we called it arithmetic’. ’I came to England 13th August 1952 and it was a Sunday…and now you are on the subject I might go on a bit if you want me to’.
The youngsters hear about ‘No Dogs, No Irish, No Gypsy, No Blacks’ on Ashley Road. They hear how his work ethic, advanced bookkeeping and characteristic cheekiness enabled him to be a foreman, over fifty-one white workers at St Ann’s Board Mill.
One pupil in the class identifies herself as the granddaughter of Owen Henry. ‘Well, Well, well’ he sighs profoundly. ‘Owen Henry and I was born in the same St Mary. Owen Henry and I did the bus crisis. I am thirteen days older than your grandad but he died when he was 62. Bless his soul. He and I started an association in 1962. It was known as CCC, Commonwealth Coordinated Committee.’
The CCC was a response by citizens in St Pauls to people dumping rubbish there, which attracted ‘rats as big as cats’. The council would not listen to them so they formed an association to strengthen their voice. Owen Henry was Chairperson, Roy the Vice-Chair and Paul Stephenson, its President. Empowered by each other, the CCC also fought other issues. In Mr Drummond’s cafe, they drank fish tea, had ‘rum talk’ and inspired each other. ‘We use it also to do the bus crisis…well it wasn’t a crisis, it was just a misunderstanding.’ he reflects on the boycott of 1963.
In 1968 they started St Pauls ”Festival” to thank the community who opened their hearts to them in Bristol. The Jamaican-inspired ‘junkanoo’ or masquerade was achieved with local donations and ran for 16 days. The Glenfrome children pay attention for an hour in this rare living history class from their community. ‘I came to better myself’, Roy concludes ‘I made university here in England by seeing, recording and acting in things that makes me a better person today’
The CCC evolved into the West Indian Parents and Friends association, convening monthly at St Werburghs Community Centre since the 60s. Sadly, it is likely to close this year. The main question for ‘West Indians’ now is, where can they go today make their voice stronger?