Amelia Boynton Robinson

August 26, 2015

She 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.”

When she died on August 26, 2015, she was 110 years old. [Note: There has been confusion about her age, but when the Peace Page contacted the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, & Reconciliation, the organization which her family has been a part of, said she was 110.]

She is most remembered for her role on “Bloody Sunday” in 1965, when she was beaten and left for dead on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Amelia Boynton Robinson “was among the 600 or so people who attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in March 1965 in a protest march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital. She’d felt anxious that day but felt strengthened by women who had sacrificed so much already,” she later said in an interview with CNN.

According to USA Today, “at 53, she was one of the older participants in the march. State troopers met them at the foot of the bridge.”

“The trooper leader told us to turn around, but we wouldn’t, and that’s when they came at us from all directions, beating us and covering us with tear gas,” Boynton Robinson recalled in 2011. “I jumped up and saw people all around me on the bridge. Some looked like they were dead.”

“As I stepped aside from the trooper’s club, I felt a blow on my arm that could have injured me permanently had it been on my head. 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.”

“Sheriff Clark reportedly told his officers not to offer any assistance to the nearly 70 marchers who were injured. As for Mrs. Boynton Robinson, he said, “Let the buzzards eat her,” according to the Washington Post. “She was rescued by other marchers and taken to a segregated hospital, where she recovered.”

The photos of her being beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge created national outrage and helped lead to passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year, according to USA Today.

Her son, Bruce Boynton, who he himself had been arrested for trying to eat at a white lunch counter at a bus station, said 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.]

She was born when slavery and the Civil War were still in living memory. As a child, before the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 gave women the vote, she traveled with her mother by horse and buggy to pass out leaflets advocating women’s suffrage. She would become a voting rights activist.

“She and my father started in 1928 fighting for black people to have the right to vote,” her son said. “From that time on, they were known as Mr. and Mrs. Civil Rights.”

When her husband died, she told the Montgomery Advertiser in a 2011 interview, “Sam would often say that if he had to die he wanted to die for something, and that’s the way I felt, too.”

According to the New York Times, even before Bloody Sunday, she had an encounter with sheriff Jim Clark, when he arrested her for leading a voter’s drive at the courthouse in Selma, grabbing her by the back of her collar and pushing her roughly and swiftly for half a block into a patrol car.”

When Dr. Martin Luther King saw this from across the street, he was so outraged he “immediately went to officials of the Justice Department to demand a court injunction against the sheriff, according to the Washington Post. “It was one of the most brutal and unlawful acts I have seen an officer commit,” King said at the time.

But, in 2007, when Clark died, Boynton Robinson would attend his funeral. Only 80 people attended his funeral, but Boynton Robinson was there.

That’s when she said, “I was brought up by people who loved others. We had no animosity. We had no feeling that we hate anyone.”

Known as the “Matriarch of the Voting Rights Movement,” 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.”

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.

She also got to see herself portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film “Selma.”

Blackpast said, “Her life represents the deep roots of civil rights activism in the rural South and the important role of African American women within these grassroots traditions.”

She had said before her passing, “Only until all human beings begin to recognize themselves as human beings will prejudice be gone forever. 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.”

She also said, “My intention is for the United States of America to be known as the United States that has no boundary line when it comes down to color, and that we will all work together in peace and unity in order (that) we can all say, ‘My country ’tis of thee.’”

President Barack Obama greets former foot soldier Amelia Boynton Robinson, 103 years old, backstage before an event to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., March 7, 2015. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza - Wikimedia commons
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