Amelia Boynton was born on August 18, 1911, in Savannah, Georgia. Her early activism included holding black voter registration drives in Selma, Alabama, from the 1930s through the ’50s. In 1964, she became both the first African-American woman and the first female Democratic candidate to run for a seat in Congress from Alabama. That same year, she marched on Bloody Sunday. In 1990, Boynton won the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom. Today, she tours on behalf of the Schiller Institute.
Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton was born Amelia Platts on August 18, 1911, to George and Anna Platts of Savannah, Georgia. Both of her parents were of African-American, Cherokee Indian and German descent. Church was central to Boynton’s and her nine siblings’ upbringing.
Boynton spent her first two years of college at Georgia State College (now Savannah State University), then transferred to the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. She graduated from Tuskegee with a home economics degree before further pursuing her education at Tennessee State University, Virginia State University and Temple University.
After working as a teacher in Georgia, Boynton took a job as Dallas County’s home demonstration agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Selma, Alabama.
In 1930, she met her co-worker, Dallas County extension agent Samuel Boynton. The two had in common their impassioned desire to better the lives of African-American members of their community, particularly sharecroppers. The couple married in 1936 and went on to have two sons, Bill Jr. and Bruce Carver. Over the next three decades, Amelia and Samuel collectively worked toward achieving voting, property and education rights for the poor African Americans of Alabama’s farm country.
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. Even Samuel’s death in 1963 did not deter Amelia’s commitment to improving the lives of African Americans.
Civil Rights Movement
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.
Also in 1964, Boynton and fellow civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. teamed up toward their common goals. At the time, Boynton figured largely as an activist in Selma. Still dedicated to securing suffrage for African Americans, she asked Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to come to Selma and help promote the cause. King eagerly accepted. Soon after, he and the SCLC set up their headquarters at Boynton’s Selma home. There, they planned the Selma to Montgomery March of March 7, 1965.
Some 600 protesters arrived to participate in the event, which would come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, over the Alabama River in Selma, marchers were attacked by policemen with tear gas and billy clubs. 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.
Boynton remarried in 1969, to a musician named Bob W. Billups. He died unexpectedly in a boating accident in 1973.
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Boynton eventually married a third time, to former Tuskegee classmate James Robinson, and moved back to Tuskegee after the wedding. When Robinson died in 1988, Boynton stayed in Tuskegee. Serving as vice chair of theSchiller Institute, she has since remained active in promoting civil and human rights.
In 1990, Boynton was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom.
Today, Boynton continues to tour the United States on behalf of the Schiller Institute, which describes its mission as “working around the world to defend the rights of all humanity to progress—material, moral and intellectual.”
Bernard Lafayette Jr.
Freedom RiderTampa, FL
Twenty-year-old Bernard Lafayette hailed from Tampa, FL and was enrolled as an undergraduate at Nashville’s American Baptist Theological Seminary. A veteran of the Nashville sit-ins, Lafayette had already staged a successful impromptu Freedom Ride with his close friend and fellow student activistJohn Lewis in 1959, while traveling home for Christmas break, when they decided to exercise their rights as interstate passengers by sitting in the front of a bus from Nashville, TN to Birmingham, AL.
As part of the May 17 Nashville Student Movement Ride, Lafayette endured jail time in Birmingham, riots and firebombings in Montgomery, AL, an arrest in Jackson, MS and jail time at Parchman State Prison Farm during June 1961.
After the end of the Freedom Riders campaign, he worked on voting rights and helped to coordinate the 1968 Poor Peoples Campaign. He completed a doctorate in Education at Harvard University and for several years was the Director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island. He currently teaches at Emory University and conducts nonviolent workshops worldwide.
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