Amelia Boynton Robinson: Civil Rights Hero, Dies at 104

Photo Credit: ameliaboynton.org

Amelia Boynton Robinson (Photo Credit: ameliaboynton.org)

By Paul Holston

Another pioneer of the civil rights movement has died this past week, leaving her legacy and many contributions to Black history and to the nation. Amelia Boynton Robinson, known as a civil rights activist in Alabama who heavily contributed to advocating for voting rights and an organizer of the shocking 1965 “Bloody Sunday,” has died Wednesday at the age of 104.

Robinson suffered a complication of a stroke this past July, which lead to her death, according to statement by her son, Bruce Boynton.

Most recently, Robinson was portrayed by actress Lorraine Toussaint, in the Oscar-nominated 2014 film “Selma,” directed by filmmaker Ava DeVernay, giving many people an in-depth perspective of the many years of work the proactive, civil rights matriarch had contributed towards the Black community.

Born on Aug. 18, 1911 in Savannah, Ga., then Amelia Isadora Platts was one of 10 children by her father, George Platts, who all grew up during the times of the segregated South. Both of her parents are, respectively, of African-American, Cherokee Indian and German descents.

Her earliest involvements towards advocacy started at the age of nine when she began helping to pass leaflets advocating women’s suffrage with her mother, Anna Platts.

At the age of 14, Amelia entered then Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth (now Savannah State University) in Savannah, Ga. for two years of college, then transferred to Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Ala. She was taught by Dr. George Washington Carver and graduated with a degree from Tuskegee in home economics.

In 1930, Amelia met her first husband, Samuel Boynton, whom both had a common interest in advocating for better quality of life for the African-American community they resided with. During 1932, Amelia was able to register to vote in Alabama, an accomplishment that many African-Americans did not achieve during this time. By 1936, the couple married and had two sons, Bill Jr. and Bruce Carver, and for the next three decades, both would fight against the Jim Crow laws for civil rights for the Black community of Alabama, to include voting rights, owning property and quality education.

The couple would meet with a young Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), for the first time in 1954 as Amelia opened her home at 1315 Lapsley Street, Selma, Ala., for it to become the headquarters for many civil rights leaders in Selma at that time.

On Dec. 5, 1960, Amelia’s son, Bruce Boynton, a Howard University Law School student, would be involved in the Boynton V. Virginia case, surrounding racial segregation in bus terminals that would be ruled in favor of Boynton 7-to-2 by the Supreme Court, desegregating public transportation.

After the passing of Samuel in 1963, Amelia would decide a year later to become the first African-American woman in the state of Alabama to run for Congress. She would lose the 1964 Democratic primary vote with a surprisingly 11 percent of the vote, but as a result, would highlight the lack of voice that African-Americans would have in voting at the polls in the South.

As time progressed, Amelia would persuade King that Selma, Ala. would be the place to lead the civil rights movement surrounding racial equality, primarily, the right to vote. Thus, the 54-mile journey from Selma to Montgomery would be created.

What would forever be known as “Bloody Sunday,” on Mar. 7, 1965, approximately 600 marchers would begin their march from Selma to Montgomery. The actions that followed on this day turned inhuman.

As the marchers arrived to the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met with law enforcement armed with tear gas, billy clubs and whips, who under then Selma Sheriff Jim Clark’s orders, would beat anyone who did not turn away from marching. Amelia was one of 17 marchers who experienced the full capacity of the law enforcement’s brutality, as she was knocked unconscious. All 17 marchers would be hospitalized, with Amelia suffering serious, life-threatening injuries.

As a result and consequences of the events from “Bloody Sunday,” President Lyndon B. Johnson would invite Amelia, after being released from the hospital, as a special guest of honor on Aug. 6, 1965, as the Voting Rights Act would be signed into law by the president.

As Amelia would outlive many of her peers during her time, she married two more times, with second husband Bob W. Billups before his death in 1973, and her third husband, former Tuskegee classmate James Robinson, before his death in 1988.

Fifty years later after “Bloody Sunday,” President Barack Obama, the first African-American president, pushed Amelia across that same bridge, the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Ala., to commemorate the turning point of the civil rights movement.

Obama said in a statement of her passing, “To honor the legacy of an American hero like Amelia Boynton requires only that we follow her example – that all of us fight to protect everyone’s right to vote.”

“She was as strong, as hopeful, and as indomitable of spirit – as quintessentially American – as I’m sure she was that day 50 years ago,” said Obama.

Other political leaders like John Lewis, another prominent civil rights leader who lead the Selma to Montgomery March and also suffered at the hands of law enforcement during “Bloody Sunday,” spoke highly of Robinson’s life.

Lewis said in a statement of her passing, “It was a great pleasure to get to know her and to work with her in our grassroots effort to transform America. Amelia Boynton never got weary. She never gave up. She never gave in. She kept the faith.”

[Story was Published in Howard University’s “The Hilltop” Student Newspaper 31Aug2015]

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