Professor Geoff Palmer said he accepted the award with “great honour and humility’ when he was admitted as an Honorary Freeman of Midlothian.
At a special ceremony in the Midlothian Council Chambers on Friday 17 February, Professor Palmer said the honour was also for everyone who has helped him carry out his community and scientific work.
The Heriot-Watt University professor and brewing expert is a prominent anti-racism campaigner.
He said: "My family and I have lived in Midlothian since 1977. It is a privilege to live in possibly the most naturally beautiful and caring part of Scotland."
The honour had been proposed by Adam Montgomery, Provost of Midlothian Council, and Councillor Les Thacker. There was cross party agreement that Professor Palmer should be honoured in this way.
At the ceremony attended by 80 guests including Midlothian's Chief Executive, Kenneth Lawrie, Cllr Montgomery paid tribute to Professor Palmer's distinguished career.
He said he was delighted Professor Palmer and his family chose to live in Penicuik. He added that the award was all the more fitting given Professor Palmer's history and ancestry. His ancestors were plantation slaves and he was subject to prolonged racial discrimination when he first came to the UK and lived in London.
Cllr Montgomery said: "I've known Geoff for about 30 years and it is an honour and a privilege to be part of the ceremony confirming him as a Freeman of Midlothian.
"Many people know Professor Palmer in Penicuik and Midlothian and it is obvious he is respected for his work on a Scottish and international level.
"When you meet Geoff, he lifts your spirits and always passes on a few pearls of wisdom from his vast knowledge of working people and humanity."
Professor Palmer is the fifth Honorary Freeman of Midlothian. Other Freemen of Midlothian, alongside former South African president Nelson Mandela, are the late Josef Rick, former convener of Kreis Heinsberg, Germany, one of Midlothian's twin areas, David R Smith, for his service to local government in Midlothian and Sam Campbell, also in recognition of his service to local government in Midlothian.
Friends and family were on hand to watch Professor Palmer accept the honour.
From left to right: Chief Executive of Midlothian Council Kenneth Lawrie, Catherine Bisset, Professor Reginald Agu, Janet McDonald, Maggie Palmer, Professor Palmer, Donald Bisset, Camile Byle, Bill McDonald and Provost Adam Montgomery.