Amelia Boynton Robinson agitated for the vote

This is the twenty-fourth entry in the series Honoring Black History.

In 1965, Amelia Boynton Robinson helped organize the march on Montgomery, Alabama’s capital in protest of segregation and the continued disenfranchisement of Black people. That march turned became known as Bloody Sunday and has been chronicled in numerous books and films, most recently in Selma. For her part in the march, she was beaten unconscious by a member of the Alabama State Police. Undeterred, she marched again two days later, but they didn’t make it to Montgomery. A few weeks later, with an army of 25,000 at her side, she marched all the way to the capital, helping to draw national attention to the disenfranchisement of Black citizens and contributing to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Amelia Boynton Robinson is often brought up in the context of these marches, and with good reason. It took a great deal of courage and faith to participate as it meant risking life and limb. And, in truth, I’m sure it was terrifying. In a 2014 interview with he New York Post, Robinson recalled

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.

According to the article, another officer stood over her unconscious body, “pumping tear gas into her eyes and mouth from a canister.” He left her for dead and it’s a miracle she survived.

But Bloody Sunday wasn’t the only time Robinson agitated for change. As a young girl in Savannah, Georgia, she was involved in the women’s suffrage movement. In 1934, at the age of 23, she registered to vote in Selma, Alabama, where she had relocated after taking a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Registering to vote was no easy task for a Black person in Alabama, thanks to disenfranchising constitution it passed during reconstruction. The articles of that constitution excluded most Black people from politics right up until the 1960s.

In 1963, when her first husband, Samuel Boynton, died, Robinson began to focus her attention on the civil rights struggles in Selma. Her home and office became a center for strategy sessions, meetings, and a voting rights campaign. Hoping to encourage Black registration and voting, she even ran for Congress—a first for a Black woman in Alabama and a first for any woman running as a Democrat in Alabama.[1]

In 1964 and 1965, she worked with Martin Luther King, Jr. and others to plan demonstrations for civil and voting rights. And, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, she helped raise the number of registered Black voters in Selma—a town that was 50% Black—from 300 to 11,000.

Amelia Boynton Robinson’s courage and commitment to getting (and keeping) the vote for all Black Americans is truly awe-inspiring. We‘re lucky to have had her in our world.

  1. She got 10% of the vote too! ↩︎