Carol Hill ‘an elegant, graceful treasure’
The last remaining member of the iconic group who picketed the Bermudiana Theatre in 1951, setting in motion a chain of events that would eventually see racial segregation banished in Bermuda, has passed away aged 89.
Carol Dowding Hill was one of four who organised the boycott of the Bermudiana Theatre Club, whose policy it was not to sell tickets to black people.
The club, which put on theatre productions akin to what can be seen now at City Hall, was later forced to end the practice following further pressure from the UK Government and US Actors Equity Guild.
Ms Hill stood in solidarity with her sister-in-law Georgine Hill, with whom she was a member of the New Theatre Guild, Georgine's husband Hilton, and Eva Robinson.
The boycott is only one element of a life dedicated to the arts, education and the community at large. Ms Hill's teaching career spanned almost 40 years and earned her both the Queen's Certificate and Badge of Honour and, in 2000, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to education and the arts in Bermuda. Many remember the Theatre Boycott of 1959, which resulted in the abolition of segregation in Bermuda's hotels, movie theatres and restaurants, but the boycott of Ms Hill and her group represented a smaller blow against segregation that is seen as an important precursor. It was, at the time, a quickly forgotten street protest against the Bermudiana but the victory was fortunately documented in Errol Williams' award-winning film 1959 Theatre Boycott, When Voices Rise.
The protest also triggered a decade-long debate on the future of Bermuda and, following the victory, they joined forces with a group of activists to write An Analysis of Social Problems calling for change in Bermuda.
Author and historian Dale Butler said of Ms Hill: “She had a kind, humanitarian spirit and did things very quietly even to the point when she picketed the theatre. At that time it was a very significant, daredevil move and I believe they helped to create the early foundations of change.
“She was involved in the publication of the underground pamphlet along with Edward and Marion Dejean, Georgine Hill, Wilfred Allen, Eva Robinson and David Critchley. They were the principal people in the room who wrote the document that was never made officially public but was left at barber shops in and around Bermuda.
“Kingsley Tweed, the father of Reverend Nicholas Tweed, found these pamphlets and was so enthralled with them he would be quoting them at the Island theatre not knowing who had produced them.”
Shadow Immigration Minister Walton Brown, whose book included a segment on Ms Hill and the 1951 picket, said: “Carol Hill was a strong, quiet yet committed activist. She played an important role in the campaign for a more just Bermuda alongside a dedicated group of Bermudians.
“I will always treasure the moments I spent with her listening, learning and gaining greater insight into Bermuda. We have lost an elegant and graceful treasure.” Ms Hill was an important figure in theatre circles having directed numerous productions at Prospect Secondary and theatres across the Island.
She sat on the Bermuda Arts Council with special responsibility for the National Youth Theatre; she was a founding member of the Festival for the Advancement of the Performing Arts; and was a founding member of the New Theatre Guild. She was also involved with the Bermuda Music and Dramatic Society, The Companion Theatre, The Studio Theatre and Church Productions.
Historian, author and actress Ruth Thomas worked with Ms Hill and appeared in some of her plays during the 70s. She recalled: “She was such a wonderful, shining light on the world of drama. She directed Take a Giant Step and by that time I'd been involved in a lot of acting and had worked with some good directors but she was head and shoulders above everyone else.
“She was thorough and every little detail was considered. She was just able to bring out the highest creative elements in any actor even if you'd not been on stage before. She had a student Carol Ann Furbert and she was one of her stars.”
Mr Butler, a former PLP Minister for Culture and Sport, added: “Ms Hill, Ruth Thomas and Hastings Saltus — they were the three best known for their productions of the time and you couldn't go wrong with them.
“Ms Hill was seen very often as having almost the archives of the back of town — especially the whole history behind the family homestead and the contributions of her father Hilton I and brother Hilton II, who were both Members of Parliament. She had extensive knowledge in that regards.”
Ms Hill's closest remaining relatives are her niece Dr June Hill and nephew Hilton G Hill. Dr Hill remembers her aunt fondly: “She was almost like a second mother, we were very close.
“She was wonderful, warm and very generous. She had a huge sense of social justice and an interest in the underdog. She was a beautiful person inside and out, she was graceful and elegant and very dramatic.
“She could tell a story like nobody else. Her students were her ‘girls' or her ‘young ladies' and she was very, very proud of all of them.” Ms Hill was well respected in the world of education. Perhaps she was inspired by her grandfather Samuel David Robinson, who founded the Berkeley Institute.
She was the first drama and speech teacher in the government high school system at Prospect Secondary School for Girls and was on the Ministry of Education's Theatre Arts Curriculum Advisory Committee. She also taught at the Institute of Arts and Crafts and in 1951, she initiated formal high school graduation exercises in government schools.
In 2013, a former student of Ms Hill, Patricia Hall, wrote the book Fond Recollections of Prospect Secondary School For Girls — charting the history of the school including passages on Ms Hill.
Ms Hall recalls: “She was a very, very concerned person, as a teacher she was very special to me. One thing I admired about her was that she was able to master the art of speaking well.
“The poem If by Rudyard Kipling was the most popular and we had to read it religiously — it was all about self respect.”
Ms Hill was heavily involved in the community and wrote a historical book on The Sunshine League — a boy's charity founded by her aunt Agnes May Robinson. Rays of Hope, The Story of Agnes May Robinson and the Sunshine League, written in “meticulous detail”, was published by Mr Dale's Atlantic Publishing House in 2000.
Ms Hill donated some $40,000 from the proceeds of the book to the charity.
She has received numerous honours and awards including the Anti-Apartheid Coalition award for helping to spearhead the drive for universal suffrage in Bermuda. She won the Bermuda Arts Council's Lifetime Achievement Award for the dramatic arts. Ms Hill leaves behind her niece June, nephew Hilton G Hill, his wife Carol, and her great nephews Jay and Russell Butler. Ms Hill's funeral takes place this Saturday at St Paul AME Church at 11am.