Civil Rights Warrior Amelia Boynton Robinson, Dies At 104
America has lost a warrior of the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Amelia Boynton Robinson died Wednesday in Alabama of a massive stroke. She was 104 years old. The world will miss the presence of Amelia Boynton, Civil Rights warrior whose contribution to the struggle made a difference. Be very clear that she is amongst the last of a dying breed. She stands right up there with Julian Bond and all those who fought to give us the life we enjoy today.
Ms. Boynton Robinson had a pivotal role in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March for voting rights, which helped usher in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a role which recently was depicted in the movie Selma portrayed by actress Lorraine Toussaint. Ms. Boynton Robinson went to see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. right before Christmas and told him that he needed to come to Selma. He did and history was made on the Edmund Pettus Bridge where she nearly lost her life on “Bloody Sunday.” A year earlier, she became the first African-American woman from Alabama to run for Congress in 1964. She was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Medal in 1990.
Amelia Platts was born in Savannah, Georgia on August 18, 1911 to George and Anna Platts, both of whom were African-American. Church was central to Amelia and her nine siblings’ upbringing. As a young girl, she became involved in campaigning for women’s suffrage. Her family encouraged the children to read. Amelia attended two years at Georgia State College (now Savannah State University, an historically black college). She transferred to Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), earning a degree in home economics where she met the noted scholar George Washington Carver. (Platts later also studied at Tennessee State, Virginia State, and Temple University.) She was a a member of the Delta Sorority.
Platts-Boyton-Robinson was Platts then. She taught in Georgia before starting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Selma as the home demonstration agent for Dallas County. She educated the county’s largely rural population about food production and processing, nutrition, healthcare, and other subjects related to agriculture and homemaking.
She met her future husband Samuel W. Boynton in Selma, where he was working as a county extension agent during the Great Depression. They married in 1936 and had two sons, Bill Jr. and Bruce Carver Boynton named after George Washington Carver.
In 1934 Amelia Boynton registered to vote after numerous failed attempts, because it was extremely difficult for African Americans to register in Alabama, due to discriminatory practices under the state’s disenfranchising constitution passed at the turn of the century. It had effectively excluded most blacks from politics for decades, an exclusion that continued into the 1960s. A few years later she wrote a play, Through the Years, which told the story of creation of Spiritual music, in order to help fund a community center in Selma, Alabama. In 1954 the Boyntons met Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where King was the pastor.
In 1963, Samuel Boynton died. It was a time of increased activism in the Civil Rights Movement. Amelia made her home and office in Selma a center for strategy sessions for Selma’s civil rights battles, including its voting rights campaign. In 1964 Boynton ran for the Congress from Alabama, hoping to encourage Black registration and voting. She was the first female African American to run for office in Alabama and the first woman of any race to run for the ticket of the Democratic Party in the state. She received 10% of the vote.
In 1964 and 1965 Boynton worked with Martin Luther King, James Bevel, and others of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to plan demonstrations for civil and voting rights. While Selma had a population that was 50 percent black, only 300 of the town’s African-American residents were registered as voters in 1965, after thousands had been arrested in protests. By March 1966, after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 11,000 were registered to vote.
To protest continuing segregation and disenfranchisement of Blacks, in early 1965 Amelia Boynton helped organize a march to the state capital of Montgomery, initiated by Chicagoan James Bevel, which took place on March 7, 1965. Led by John Lewis, Hosea Williams and Bob Mants, and including Rosa Parks and others among the marchers, the event became known as Bloody Sunday when county and state police stopped the march and beat demonstrators after they left the Edmund Pettus Bridge and crossed into the county.Boynton was beaten unconscious; a photograph of her lying on Edmund Pettus Bridge went around the world. Another short march led by Martin Luther King took place two days later; they turned back. With federal protection and thousands of marchers joining them, a third march reached Montgomery on March 24, entering with 25,000 people.
The events of Bloody Sunday and the later march on Montgomery galvanized national public opinion and contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; Boynton was a guest of honor at the ceremony when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August of that year.
This past January, Boynton Robinson attended the State of the Union address, wheeled in by fellow “Bloody Sunday” marcher Rep. John Lewis (D, Georgia). She was there at the invitation of Rep. Terri Sewell (D, Alabama), who later asked that Boynton be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Boynton became Robinson through a third marriage to Tuskegee classmate James Robinson. after a brief marriage in 1969, to a musician named Bob W. Billups who died unexpectedly in a boating accident in 1973. She moved with James to Tuskegee after the wedding. Mr.Robinson died in 1988.
In 1983, Robinson met the controversial political figure in the Democratic Party, Lyndon LaRouche. A year later she served as a founding board member of the LaRouche-affiliated Schiller Institute. Five years later LaRouche was later convicted of mail fraud involving $30 million in debt. In 1991, the Schiller Institute published a biography of Robinson, who even into her 90s was described as “LaRouche’s most high-profile Black spokeswoman.”
In 1992, proclamations of “Amelia Boynton Robinson Day” in Seattle and in the state of Washington were rescinded when her involvement in the Schiller Institute was realized.
Earlier this year at the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday Ms. Boynton Robinson said, “We were successful at what we achieved 50 years ago, but we missed the boat because we still don’t have our civil rights, we have to assure every American equality through integration.” She had also been slated to receive a Phoenix Award from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.
On the afternoon day of her passing President Obama made the following statement about Boynton Robinson’s passing:
Amelia Boynton Robinson was a dedicated and courageous leader in the fight for civil rights. For most of her 104 years, Amelia committed herself to a simple, American principle: that everybody deserves the right to vote. Fifty years ago, she marched in Selma, and the quiet heroism of those marchers helped pave the way for the landmark Voting Rights Act. But for the rest of her life, she kept marching – to make sure the law was upheld, and barriers to the polls torn down. And America is so fortunate she did. 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. Earlier this year, in Selma, Michelle and I had the honor to walk with Amelia and other foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. 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. And we offer our thoughts, our prayers, and our enduring gratitude to everyone who loved her.
Said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D. N.C.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement:
Today we mourn the passing of a remarkable citizen, Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, a civil rights activist and one of the leaders of the 1965 Bloody Sunday march of 1965. Often referred to as the matriarch of our country’s Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Boynton Robinson worked tirelessly on the behalf of those who were discriminated against and disenfranchised, and she stood courageously in the fight to ensure voting rights for every citizen in this nation. Mrs. Boynton Robinson was committed to equality until her death and was a champion for African Americans when our voices were not yet heard. Fifty years ago, Mrs. Boynton Robinson walked bravely across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma to ensure that all African Americans had equal opportunity and the right to vote. Her walk was not in vain, and we remain forever grateful for her contributions and dedicated service to civil rights in America.
Boynton’s family has released the following statement in regards to her death:
“After being hospitalized last month following a massive stroke, Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson’s health continued to deteriorate. With deep sadness, we announce that she passed peaceably this morning with family and friends surrounding her at approximately 2:20 a.m. in Noland Hospital of Montgomery in Alabama. Funeral arrangements will be announced later. Thank you. The Family
“The Family wishes to thank all who have contributed to Dr. Boynton Robinson’s medical expenses. There is still a need for financial assistance. Please feel free to make your contributions directly at PNC Bank, 102 East Rosa Parks Avenue, Tuskegee, Alabama 36083, under the ‘Amelia Boynton Robinson Conservatorship Account.’”