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Fri, 08.18.1911

Amelia Boynton, Activist born

Amelia Boynton

*Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson was born on this date in 1911. She was a Black activist in the 20th-century American Civil Rights Movement.

From Savannah, GA, Amelia Platts was the daughter of George and Anna Platts, both of whom were of African, Cherokee, and German descent. The Black Church was central to her and her nine siblings' upbringing.  She became involved as a girl in campaigning for women's suffrage.  Her family encouraged the children to read. Platts attended Georgia State College, now Savannah State University. She transferred to Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, earning a degree in home economics.

She later also studied at Tennessee State, Virginia State, and Temple University.  She taught in Georgia before starting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Selma as the home demonstration agent for Dallas County. There 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 first 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. In 1934 Amelia Boynton registered to vote, which was extremely difficult for blacks in Alabama due to discriminatory practices under the state's disenfranchising constitution passed at the turn of the century.  A few years later, she wrote a play, Through the Years, which told the story of the creation of Spiritual music to help fund a community center in Selma, Alabama.  In 1963, her husband died. In 1964 Boynton ran for Congress from Alabama, hoping to encourage Black registration and voting.  She was the first Black woman 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 civil and voting rights demonstrations.  To protest continuing segregation and disenfranchisement of Blacks, Boynton helped organize a march to Montgomery's state capital, which became known as Bloody Sunday.  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.

In 1965, while Selma had a population that was 50 percent Black, only 300 of the town's Black residents were registered as voters after many had been arrested in protests.  These episodes galvanized national public opinion and contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  After passage, 11,000 were registered to vote.   Boynton was a guest of honor at the ceremony when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.  Boynton remarried in 1969 to Bob W. Billups, who died unexpectedly in a boating accident in 1973.  She eventually married a third time to former Tuskegee classmate James Robinson. She moved with him to Tuskegee after the wedding; Robinson died in 1988.

In 1984, she served as a founding board member of the Lyndon LaRouche-affiliated Schiller Institute. LaRouche was later convicted in 1988 of mail fraud involving $30 million in debt.  In 2004 she sued The Walt Disney Company for defamation, asking for $1 and $10 million in damages. She contended that the 1999 TV movie Selma, Lord, Selma, a docudrama based on a book written by two young participants in Bloody Sunday, falsely depicted her as a stereotypical "black Mammy," whose key role was to "make religious utterances and to participate in singing spirituals and protest songs." She lost the case. Robinson retired as vice president of the Schiller Institute in 2009.

In 2011, she returned to her hometown of Savannah to address students at Savannah State University.  In 2015, Robinson attended the State of the Union Address in January at the invitation of President Barack Obama and, in her wheelchair, was at Obama's side as he and others walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Selma Voting Rights Movement 50th Anniversary Jubilee that March.  After suffering a series of strokes, Robinson died on August 26, 2015, at 104 in Montgomery, Alabama.

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