Historical Figures

Amelia Boynton Robinson, civil rights activist

Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson (1911 – 2015) played a crucial role in the Marches from Selma to Montgomery demanding the right to vote for African Americans in 1965.

A committed girl

Daughter of Anna Eliza Platts and George Platss, Amelia Isadora Platts was born on August 18, 1911 in Savannah, Georgia, in the southeastern United States. She and her nine siblings and brothers grew up in a racially segregated state where the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist organization, had a strong presence.

Anna and George encourage their children to read, educate themselves and train their minds. While Amelia was still a little girl, she participated in campaigns for women's suffrage, which would be granted by the United States in 1920 through the 19 th amendment of the Constitution. To white women, at least. Although the XV th amendment states since 1969 that "the right to vote of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or limited by the United States, or by any state, on grounds of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" , many states effectively exclude African-Americans from voting based, for example, on conditions of resources or education.

Amelia studied for two years at the Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth (“Georgia State Industrial College for Young People of Color,” now Savannah State University), then earned a degree in home economics at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama (now the University of Tuskegee). She taught for a while before becoming a home demonstrator in the town of Selma, Alabama. She trains the population there in questions related to various subjects around agriculture and domestic tasks, such as food processing, nutrition or health.


In 1934, Amelia Boynton Robinson registered on the voting registers, which was particularly complicated for African-Americans at that time. Like many Southern states, Alabama has passed a series of laws (disenfranchisement ) to prevent black people from having access to the vote. Registration on the electoral lists is thus subject to conditions of education and literacy. In order to avoid penalizing a white electorate, Alabama adds to its arsenal of laws the "good character clause" (good character clause) and the "grandfather clause" (grandfather clause):an illiterate person can thus access the right to vote if his father or grandfather voted before 1867 (thus excluding the descendants of slaves) or if a nomination committee considers them "of good character" and able to understand "the duties and obligations of citizenship". Devices that generally exclude black citizens as well as, often, poor white people.

In 1936, aged 25, Amelia married Samuel William Boynton with whom she had two children:Bill Jr. and Bruce Carver Boynton. Later, they will adopt two nieces of Amelia, Sharon and Germaine. The couple is an activist and supports associations for the defense of civil rights. A few years later, Amelia wrote the play Through the Years (over the years) that looks at the birth of Spiritual, music with the aim of raising funds for the creation of a community center in Selma.

Boynton c. Virginia

In 1954, Amelia and Samuel met the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, in the Montgmory church where the pastor officiated. With the Montgomery bus boycott movement the following year, an action sparked by Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King would become one of the pillars of the civil rights movement in the United States.

In 1958, Amelia and Samuel's second son, Bruce, was arrested while ordering a burger and tea at a white-only restaurant. After a night in jail, he is fined ten dollars. He appealed the decision, but lost the case. The case comes three years after the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, and the vast movement that achieved the desegregation of public transport. It was finally the Supreme Court of the United States which, two years later, ruled in favor of Bruce Boynton through the decision Boynton v. Virginia [English].

First candidate in Alabama

Samuel died in 1963. Little by little, Amelia Boynton Robinson transformed her home into a center of reflection, strategy and organization for the civil rights movement in Selma. Campaigns for the right to vote for Blacks were thus launched, with demonstrations and rallies in front of courthouses to try – generally in vain – to obtain registration on the electoral lists:in 1962 then in 1963, the activist Annie Lee Wilkerson Cooper will thus be dismissed. The right to vote is a major issue for civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Martin Luther King:it is the first step towards a real political representation of Black people, necessary for real progress in their rights.

In 1964, Amelia ran for senatorial elections in Alabama, hoping to encourage black citizens to register and vote. A pioneering candidacy, in more ways than one:Amelia is the first black woman to run in Alabama, and the first female candidate for the Democratic Party in the state. She will receive 10% of the votes.

The Steps of Selma

In early 1965, a young black activist, Jimmie Lee Jackson, was shot dead by the police during a demonstration for the right to vote. Amelia Boynton Robinson then initiates and co-organizes a vast protest march and demand for the right to vote between Selma and Montgomery, nearly 80 km away. Led by Hosea Williams and John Lewis, 600 activists left Selma on March 7, 1965. They were stopped a few miles away by local police and a hateful mob who violently attacked them. 70 activists injured in what will be known as bloody sunday (Bloody Sunday). The images of Amelia, unconscious on the ground after being beaten by the police, will go around the world.

“Then they charged. They came from the right. They came from the left. One [of the troopers] shouted:‘Run!’ I thought, ‘Why should I be running?’ Then an officer on horseback hit me across the back of the shoulders and, for a second time, on the back of the neck. I lost consciousness. »
(So ​​they charged. They came from the right. They came from the left. One [of the soldiers] shouted, "Run!" I thought, "Why should I run?" Then an officer on horseback hit me on the shoulder blades and, a second time, on the back of the neck. I lost consciousness.)

Despite what she had just suffered, Amelia Boynton Robinson resumed the start two days later, accompanied by Martin Luther King. At the same place, walkers turn around to avoid another bloody sunday . She will still be present during the third march which, this time, reaches Montgmory in three days; 25,000 walkers enter the state capital on March 24.

The Voting Rights Act , prohibiting racial discrimination in access to the vote, was finally signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in August 1965. Amelia Boynton was the guest of honor at the signing ceremony.

Amelia remarried in 1969 to Bob W. Billups, then in 1976 to James Robinson. Subsequently, she became vice-president of the Schiller Institute in 1984, a position from which she resigned in 2009. In 1990, she was awarded the Martin Luther King Medal for Freedom. Amelia Boynton Robinson died in August 2015, days after turning 104.