She never got to finish her journey that day. She was marching peacefully along with some 600 protesters for voting rights when policemen arrived with tear gas and billy clubs. The protesters would be beaten, and she would be left bloody and unconscious on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Her name was Amelia Boynton, the date was March 7, 1965, and the incident on the bridge in Selma would draw national attention, eventually being called, “Bloody Sunday.”
Boynton, a former teacher, had invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Selma. Dr. King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference would meet and set up headquarters at Boynton’s Selma home, where they would plan the Selma to Montgomery March.When they got on the bridge, she remembers the troopers brutally attacking them. “I felt a blow on my arm that could have injured me permanently had it been on my head,” she would say. “Another blow by a trooper as I was gasping for breath knocked me to the ground and there I lay unconscious. Others told me that my attacker had called to another that he had the “damn leader.” One of them shot tear gas all over me.”
A newspaper photo of Boynton, lying on the ground, left for dead, shocked the entire nation. Boynton also suffered throat burns from the effects of the tear gas. Bloody Sunday would prompt 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, who later would be referred to as Amelia Boynton Robinson, would continue being a voice for civil rights, touring the United States “to defend the rights of all humanity to progress — material, moral and intellectual.” She would remind younger people of the importance of history, saying, “It’s important that young people know about the struggles we faced to get to the point we are today. Only then will they appreciate the hard-won freedom of blacks in this country.” She added, “You can never know where you are going unless you know where you have been.”Her son, Bruce Boynton, who he himself had been arrested for trying to eat at a white lunch counter at a bus station, would say of his mother, “She’s done so many outstanding things that a lot of people don’t know.” [Bruce Boynton’s case would inspire the freedom rides, and he would be represented by Thurgood Marshall in the Supreme Court case.]
Boynton was known by many as the “Matriarch of the Voting Rights Movement.” She was the first African-American woman to run on the Democratic ticket for a seat in Congress from Alabama. Although she didn’t win the election, she did garner 10 percent of the votes at a time when only 1 percent of the voting population was made up of African Americans.She was a member of the brave Courageous Eight and one of the first African Americans registered to vote in Alabama.She would be awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom. On August 26, 2015, Boynton Robinson would die at the age of 110.
But before her death, she was able to finish her journey across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Selma Voting Rights Movement 50th Anniversary Jubilee. In her wheelchair, she was accompanied by the first black President of the United States, Barack Obama, holding her hand.Close friends and family would say, she died, harboring no animosity for anyone, not even those who might have hated her for the color of her skin. She had said, “I was brought up by people who loved others. I love people. We had no animosity. We had no feeling that we hate anyone.” “Only until all human beings begin to recognize themselves as human beings will prejudice be gone forever,” she said. “People ask me what race I am, but there is no such thing as race. I just answer: “I’m a member of the human race.”