Person

Amelia Boynton Robinson

Amelia Robinson. Photo by Ianbailey1983 CC-BY-SA-4.0
Amelia Boynton Robinson. Photo taken 2015.

Photo by Ianbailey1983 CC BY-SA-4.0 (Wikimedia)

Quick Facts

Amelia was born in Savannah, Georgia on August 18, 1911. She was one of ten children. Her father, George, was a skilled construction worker and owned a wholesale woodlot. Her mother, Anna, was a seamstress. When she wasn't working, Anna traveled to rural Black communities to promote women's suffrage. She often took 10-year-old Amelia with her as she knocked on doors and accompanied women to the polls to cast their votes.

At 14, Amelia enrolled at Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth, now Savannah State University.[1] She later transferred to Tuskegee University and got a degree in home economics.[2] She also attended Tennessee State University, Virginia State University, and Temple University.

In 1929, she got a job as a home demonstration agent for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Selma, Alabama. She traveled around the state promoting home canning, nutrition, and agricultural improvements. In 1930, she met Samuel William Boynton, a local USDA Extension Agent.

Together, they taught rural African Americans how to improve their farming methods and home economics. They also talked about the importance of politics and education in improving their lives. They encouraged people to register to vote, and to buy land. At the time, Jim Crow laws and customs kept Black people from voting. "We would have meetings in the rural churches, and even in homes," Amelia said, "And we would show them how to fill out these blanks, how to present themselves when they went down to the registration office." In the 1930s, Amelia and Samuel joined the Dallas County Voters League, and continued their work for voter registration.

Amelia and Samuel married in 1936. In addition to their government work, they also ran an insurance agency, real estate office, and employment agency in Selma. These businesses served African American communities throughout southern Alabama. They also expanded the grassroots network of the Boyntons. Amelia had a sign in her office, "A Voteless People is a Hopeless People."

Samuel died in 1963. At his funeral, Amelia rallied support for continued political action. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. Amelia was ready to challenge Jim Crow head on. She registered as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the US House of Representatives. She was the first Black woman and the first woman to run for Congress from Alabama. Although she did not win, she did receive 10 percent of the vote.

In 1965, Amelia asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to come to Selma to help in the fight for Civil Rights. They accepted, and set up headquarters in Amelia's home. It was there at home that they planned the Selma to Montgomery March, despite pressure from local law enforcement.

On March 7, 1965, Amelia and almost 600 people (including John Lewis and Rosa Parks) gathered. Starting at the Brown Chapel AME Church, the non-violent marchers began their walk from Selma to Montgomery. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state and local police attacked them with tear gas and billy clubs. Police beat Amelia unconscious for refusing to retreat. Television and newspaper cameras recorded the violence. Over seventy marchers were beaten and seventeen hospitalized. The event became known as Bloody Sunday.

Amelia was present for the second Selma to Montgomery march that turned back at the bridge. She was also part of the third, successful march that left Brown Chapel on March 21 under heavy guard provided by President Lyndon Johnson. When the march arrived at the Alabama State Capitol on March 25, it was over 25,000 strong.[3] The Selma to Montgomery marches were key events that resulted in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In later life, Amelia married a former classmate, James Robinson. They settled in Tuskegee. In 1990, Amelia received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal. The Oscar-nominated film, Selma, depicts her role in Bloody Sunday.

Amelia Boynton Robinson died in 2015. Just months before her death, Amelia crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge again, this time with President Obama and Congressman John Lewis. They, and hundreds of others, were there to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march.

Notes: 
[1] Hill Hall at Savannah State College, built in 1901, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 23, 1981.

[2] Tuskegee University was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966 and designated a National Historic Landmark on June 23, 1965. The Campus is designated the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park Service.

[3] The 54-mile route has been designated the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail, a unit of the National Park Service.


Sources:
Biography. Amelia Boynton.
 
Bragg, Susan. 2015. Amelia Boynton Robinson (1911-2015). BlackPast.

SNCC Legacy Project. Amelia Boynton. SNCC Digital.
 

Last updated: March 28, 2019