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In Recognition of Those Who Participated in the Struggles Leading to the Signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Amelia Boynton Robinson

Which woman became the first African-American, the first female Democratic candidate to stand for election to the United States Congress from Alabama, and had a career in agriculture? 

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Historical Notes

Amelia Boynton Robinson

Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson was born Amelia Platts on August 18, 1911.  She was one of nine children of George and Anna Platts of Savannah, Georgia.  Boynton spent her first two years of college at Georgia State College (now Savannah State University), then transferred to Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama.  She graduated from Tuskegee with a home economics degree and continued her education at Tennessee State, Virginia State, and Temple Universities.  After working as a home economics teacher in the rural south, Boynton took a job as Dallas County's home demonstration agent with the Alabama State Agricultural Extension Service in Selma, Alabama.  While at Tuskegee, Boynton met S. W. Boynton, who later also became a Dallas County extension service employee.  In the 1930’s,they married and worked to  bring education and an improved standard of living and voting rights to poor African Americans, mostly sharecroppers.  As agents for the Federal government, the Boynton’s said they had the right to vote and educated others about voting rights.

Boynton’s early activism included co-founding the Dallas County Voters League in 1933 and holding African-American voter registration drives in Selma from the 1930s through the '50s.  S.W. Boynton died in 1963.

In 1964, as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, Amelia Boynton ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat in the United States Congress—becoming the first African-American woman to do so, as well as the first woman to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress from Alabama.  Although she didn't win the election, Boynton garnered 10 percent of the vote in a district where less than 5% of its registered voters were Black.

Also in 1964, Boynton and other fellow civil rights activists joined with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to work toward common goals.  At the time, Boynton was a well-known activist in Selma.  Dedicated to securing suffrage for African Americans, she asked Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to come to Selma and help promote the cause.  King eagerly accepted.  Boynton’s Selma home became the headquarters for the SCLC.  It was there that they planned the Selma to Montgomery March of March 7, 1965.

Some 600 protesters arrived to participate in the event.  On Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, marchers were attacked by policemen with tear gas and billy clubs, which came to be known as "Bloody Sunday." Seventeen protesters were sent to the hospital, including Boynton.  She had been beaten unconscious and left for dead on the bridge.  A newspaper photo of Boynton lying bloody and beaten drew national attention to the cause.  “Bloody Sunday” was one of the events that prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.  Boynton attended the landmark event as a guest of honor.  She is frequently referred to as the “grandmother of the voting rights movement.”  One of her famous quotes is, “A vote-less people is a hopeless people.”

In 1990, Boynton was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr., Medal of Freedom.  Her activism is portrayed in the award-winning film, “Selma,” currently screening in area theaters.  Now 103 years old, and three-times a widow,  Amelia Boynton Billups Robinson  was recognized for her contributions to civil rights and equality by President Barack Obama during his 2015 State of the Union Address to the nation.