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Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson  (1911-2015)
In honor of Black History Month, all month long we will be sharing the legacies and stories of the heroes, sheroes, and events in the fight for Black suffrage on social media under the hashtag #VRABlackHistory. Follow us on Twitter (@VRAmatters) to share your own facts. 

Note from the author: This article is comprised of quotes from many different articles in order to provide a more comprehensive view of the life and legacy of Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson's fight for African-American suffrage. All sources are linked in green throughout the article.

Today we honor  Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson, who " was a civil rights pioneer who championed voting rights for African Americans." “Born when slavery and the Civil War were still in living memory, Mrs. Boynton Robinson became a voting rights activist in the 1930s and was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. She lived long enough to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address in January [2015] and to accompany the president across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March, [2015] commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma march that almost claimed her life.”

Voting Rights Biography

“Born Amelia Platts in Savannah, Georgia, in 1911, Amelia Boynton was only nine years old when she helped her mother support women's suffrage.”  

“Boynton's early activism included co-founding the Dallas County Voters League in 1933, and holding African-American voter registration drives in Selma from the 1930s through the '50s.” "In 1964, as the Civil Rights Movement was picking up speed, Amelia Boynton ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat in Congress from Alabama—becoming the first African-American woman to do so, as well as the first woman to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Alabama. Although she didn't win her seat, Boynton earned 10 percent of vote.” Her congressional campaign brought attention to the lack of voting rights among African Americans in the South. More than half the residents of Selma and surrounding Dallas County were African American, but only 2 percent were registered to vote.”

Fellow activist Andrew Young credited her with creating the Civil Rights Movement in her community. As he later explained to the Michigan Chronicle, Boynton approached Dr. Martin Luther King 'just before Christmas in 1964 and said, 'You need to come and help us in Selma,' and that is where the Selma movement started.’ She inspired King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to take action in Selma.”

"In January 1965, while leading a voters’ drive at the courthouse in Selma, Mrs. Boynton Robinson was charged with ‘criminal provocation’ and was arrested by the county’s notoriously race-baiting sheriff, Jim Clark. ‘When she refused to leave the sidewalk in front of the courthouse, Sheriff Clark grabbed her by the back of her collar and pushed her roughly and swiftly for half a block into a patrol car,’ the New York Times reported.

King, who was watching from across the street, immediately went to officials of the Justice Department to demand a court injunction against the sheriff. ‘It was one of the most brutal and unlawful acts I have seen an officer commit,’ King said at the time.”

"[Boynton] was brutally beaten for helping to lead a 1965 civil rights march [The Selma-to-Montgomery March], which became known as Bloody Sunday and drew national attention to the Civil Rights Movement." The decision to march from Selma to Montgomery came after the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson in February 1965. Jackson was a young African-American teenager killed by the police in Marion, Alabama, after attending a rally.” “Some 600 protesters arrived to participate in the event."

As [the] marchers walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by 200 state troopers, plus posses of white men, many on horseback, deputized for the day by Sheriff Clark. The marchers were given two minutes to disperse. After one minute and five seconds, the phalanx of troopers and vigilantes advanced.

'I saw them as we marched across the bridge, some with gas masks on, clubs and cattle prods in their hands, some on horses,' Mrs. Boynton Robinson told The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP, in 2005. 'They came from the right, the left, the front and started beating people.'

A trooper struck her on the shoulder with a billy club.

'I gave him a dirty look,' she told The Crisis, 'and the second time I was hit at the base of my neck. I fell unconscious. I woke up in a hospital.'

A photographer captured the incident, as a fellow marcher sought to comfort Mrs. Boynton Robinson, who was 53 at the time. She was wearing a light-colored coat, gloves and heels.”

Sheriff Clark reportedly told his officers not to offer any assistance to the nearly 70 marchers who were injured. As for Mrs. Boynton Robinson, he said, ‘Let the buzzards eat her.’

She was rescued by other marchers and taken to a segregated hospital, where she recovered.” "Seventeen protesters were sent to the hospital, including Boynton, who had been beaten unconscious. A newspaper photo of Boynton lying bloody and beaten drew national attention to the cause."

"Bloody Sunday prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, with Boynton attending as the landmark event's guest of honor.” "This new law put an end to such discriminatory measures as literacy tests that used to deny many African Americans the right to vote. The act also gave the federal government more oversight over state election practices. After passing of this important legislation, Boynton continued to work for civil rights. She served on the boards of the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change and National Voting Rights Museum. From the 1980s until 2009, Boynton also worked for the Schiller Institute." "In 1990, Boynton Robinson was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom.”

“Boynton Robinson was honored as a special guest at President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in January 2015. In March of that year, at the age of 103, Boynton Robinson held hands with President Obama as they marched alongside fellow civil rights activist Congressman John Lewis across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march."

“After suffering several strokes, Boynton Robinson died on August 26, 2015 at the age of 104. Her son Bruce Boynton said of his mother's commitment to civil rights: 'The truth of it is that was her entire life. That's what she was completely taken with. She was a loving person, very supportive — but civil rights was her life.'"

Recommended Reading:

Fun Facts:

  • “In 1934, Mrs. Boynton Robinson became one of the few African American women registered to vote in Selma.”  
  • In 1936, Mrs. Boynton Robinson wrote a play, “Through the Years,” about a former slave who won election to Congress during Reconstruction. It was based on the life of her father’s half-brother, Robert Smalls.”  
  • Amelia was widowed three times.
  • “Survivors [of Mrs. Boynton]include a son from her first marriage, Bruce Boynton of Selma; and two granddaughters. Bruce Boynton, a Howard University-trained lawyer, was arrested in 1958 at a whites-only lunch counter in a Richmond bus station. His case, Boynton v. Virginia, was taken up by lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. In 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that interstate travel facilities should be desegregated.” (emphasis in original)  
  • “For years,  [Boynton’s] son said, [Boynton] was publicly known by only her initials, A.P. Boynton, so that white people would not dismissively call her by her first name.”
  •  “In 2007, Mrs. Boynton Robinson attended the funeral of Clark, her onetime nemesis, who died unrepentant.”
Click on the video screenshot below to watch Amelia Boynton talk about her parents, and how her father influenced her independence, and her mother influenced her drive for voting rights.