"A Voteless People Is A Hopeless People": Amelia Boynton Robinson's Story

Image Source: Bettmann/Corbis via Getty Images

Image Source: Bettmann/Corbis via Getty Images

Born August 18, 1911 and raised in Savannah, Georgia Amelia Boynton spent her entire life as an activist. Her leadership and activism skills were cultivated at a young age by her parents who were both active in the African American community. Her father was a business owner. He owned a wholesale wood lot bringing his entrepreneurship to the Savannah Black community. Her mother was a proud women’s suffragist who brought her 10 year old daughter along with her in horse and buggy “knocking on doors and ringing doorbells, giving women the proper information, taking them to the registration board and/or taking them to the polls to cast their votes.”

Boynton attended Tuskegee University and studied Home Economics. Upon graduating she settled in Dallas County, Alabama and began working as a home demonstrations agent. It was during this time she met her husband S.W. Boynton. As a couple they operated an insurance agency, real estate office, and employment agency out of an office on Franklin Street. They also traveled through the rural roads of the county teaching African Americans better farming techniques and how to gain political, educational, and financial power.

Image courtesy of webuyblack.com

Image courtesy of webuyblack.com

In the mid-1930s Amelia and S.W. Boynton began the effort to revitalize the Dallas County Voters League using the back room of their Franklin Street Office. When Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Members (SNCC) Bernard Lafayette and wife Colia Liddell arrived in Selma (a city in Dallas County) in 1962 they acknowledge the ground work being laid by the Boynton’s and offered their services in continuing their efforts. This collaboration would be the precursor to the historic “Bloody Sunday” march.

In 1964, Amelia Boynton became the first African American woman in the state of Alabama to run for Congress challenging a white incumbent for the Alabama Fourth District seat. Her campaign motto was “A voteless people is a hopeless people” Although she did not win, she earned 11% of the vote in an area where only 5% of African Americans were registered to vote.

Also in the summer of 1964 injunctions were passed to suppress protesting in the state of Alabama which slowed down the movement in Selma. It was Boynton who reached out to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) asking for their assistant in revitalizing the movement. On January 2, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr., along with the SCLC, started a nationally-geared campaign for voting rights in Selma. Boynton was one of the most earnest workers drawing local support for the movement. She even went as far as to house activist in her home on Lapsley Street. Like many women during the Civil Rights Movement she risked her own safety and offered her own resources to shelter and feed activists.

Image Source: Bettmann/Corbis via Getty Images

Image Source: Bettmann/Corbis via Getty Images

On March 7, 1965 notoriously known as Bloody Sunday, Amelia Boynton marched on the front lines of 600 protestors who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge heading toward Montgomery in protest of unfair voting practices and racial treatment. Boyton later recalled “I saw in front of us a solid wall of state troopers, standing shoulder to shoulder” She also recalled them wearing gas masks and holding billy clubs, cattle prods, guns, and gas canisters. As the marchers crossed the bridge they were mercilessly attacked by troopers using excessive force. Amelia Boynton herself was tear gassed and beaten unconscious. Images of her limp body being carried by her fellow advocates are some of the most popular from this blight in history and among the images that stirred discontent in Americans as they looked on in horror of what occurred on that fated day in Alabama.

Bloody Sunday and the events in Selma Alabama are credited for pushing President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Amelia Boynton was invited as an honorary guest for the signing of the Voting Rights Act in Washington, D.C.  

In 2015, the 50th anniversary of the march, she crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge once again hand in hand with the first African American President of the United States,  President Barack Obama. She died later that year at 104 years old. Her legacy lives on, forever immortalized in images that display vividly her brave commitment to what is right.

Amelia Boynton Robinson (in blue) holds the hand of President Obama crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015, 50 years after she was beaten unconscious. Image Source: The Selma Times Journal

Amelia Boynton Robinson (in blue) holds the hand of President Obama crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015, 50 years after she was beaten unconscious. Image Source: The Selma Times Journal

Andreia Wardlaw