|Birth:||18 August 1905|
Savannah, Georgia, USA
|Death:||26 August 2015|
Montgomery, Alabama, USA
|Age:||110 years, 8 days|
Amelia Boynton-Billups-Robinson (née Platts) (18 August 1905 – 26 August 2015) was an American activist and supercentenarian who was a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama and a key figure in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. In 1984, she became founding Vice-President of the Schiller Institute affiliated with Lyndon LaRouche. She was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Medal in 1990. In 2014, actress Lorraine Toussaint played Robinson in the Ava DuVernay film Selma.
Early life and education
Amelia Platts was born in Savannah, Georgia on 18 August 1905 to George and Anna Platts, both of whom were African-American. She also had Cherokee and German ancestry. Church was central to Amelia and her nine siblings' upbringing. As a young girl, she became involved in campaigning for women's suffrage. Her family encouraged the children to read. Amelia attended two years at Georgia State College (now Savannah State University, a historically black college). She transferred to Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), earning a degree in home economics. (Platts later also studied at Tennessee State, Virginia State, and Temple University)
Career and civil rights
Amelia taught in Georgia before starting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Selma as the home demonstration agent for Dallas County. She educated the county's largely rural population about food production and processing, nutrition, healthcare, and other subjects related to agriculture and homemaking.
She met her future husband Samuel W. Boynton in Selma, where he was working as a county extension agent during the Great Depression. They married in 1936 and had two sons, Bill Jr. and Bruce Carver Boynton. Later they adopted Amelia's two nieces Sharon and Germaine Platts. Amelia and Samuel had known the noted scholar George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute, from which they both graduated.
In 1934 Amelia Boynton registered to vote, which was extremely difficult for African Americans to accomplish in Alabama, due to discriminatory practices under the state's disenfranchising constitution passed at the turn of the century. It had effectively excluded most blacks from politics for decades, an exclusion that continued into the 1960s. A few years later she wrote a play, Through the Years, which told the story of creation of Spiritual music, in order to help fund a community center in Selma, Alabama. In 1954 the Boyntons met Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where King was the pastor.
In 1963, Samuel Boynton died. It was a time of increased activism in the Civil Rights Movement. Amelia made her home and office in Selma a center for strategy sessions for Selma's civil rights battles, including its voting rights campaign. In 1964 Boynton ran for the United States Congress from Alabama, hoping to encourage black registration and voting. She was the first female African American to run for office in Alabama and the first woman of any race to run for the ticket of the Democratic Party in the state. She received 10% of the vote.
In 1964 and 1965 Boynton worked with Martin Luther King, James Bevel, and others of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to plan demonstrations for civil and voting rights. While Selma had a population that was 50 percent black, only 300 of the town's African-American residents were registered as voters in 1965, after thousands had been arrested in protests. By March 1966, after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 11,000 were registered to vote.
To protest continuing segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks, in early 1965 Amelia Boynton helped organize a march to the state capital of Montgomery, initiated by James Bevel, which took place on 7 March 1965. Led by John Lewis, Hosea Williams and Bob Mants, and including Rosa Parks and others among the marchers, the event became known as Bloody Sunday when county and state police stopped the march and beat demonstrators after they left the Edmund Pettus Bridge and crossed into the county. Boynton was beaten unconscious; a photograph of her lying on Edmund Pettus Bridge went around the world. Another short march led by Martin Luther King took place two days later; they turned back. With federal protection and thousands of marchers joining them, a third march reached Montgomery on 24 March entering with 25,000 people.
The events of Bloody Sunday and the later march on Montgomery galvanized national public opinion and contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; Boynton was a guest of honor at the ceremony when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in August of that year.
Boynton remarried in 1969, to a musician named Bob W. Billups. He died unexpectedly in a boating accident in 1973. Amelia Boynton eventually married a third time, to former Tuskegee classmate James Robinson. She moved with him to Tuskegee after the wedding. James Robinson died in 1988.
In 1983, Robinson met Lyndon LaRouche, considered a highly controversial political figure in the Democratic Party. A year later she served as a founding board member of the LaRouche-affiliated Schiller Institute. LaRouche was later convicted in 1988 of mail fraud involving $30 million in debt. In 1991, the Schiller Institute published a biography of Robinson, who even into her 90s was described as "LaRouche's most high-profile Black spokeswoman."
In 1992, proclamations of "Amelia Boynton Robinson Day" in Seattle and in the state of Washington were rescinded when officials learned of Robinson's involvement in the Schiller Institute. It was the first time the state had pulled back such an honor. A spokesman for the Seattle mayor said,
"It was a very difficult decision. The mayor has a lot of respect for her courage during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but we don't feel her handlers gave us full and accurate information about her current activities."
Robinson said in an interview,
"I have had worse things than that done to me when I was fighting for people's right to vote. I have been called rabble-rouser, agitator. But because of my fighting, I was able to hand to the entire country the right for people to vote. To give me an honor and rescind it because I am fighting for justice and for a man who has an economic program that will help the poor and the oppressed ... if that is the reason, then I think they did more good than they did harm." According to the Associated Press, she said that "people get the wrong image of LaRouche because government leaders are spreading lies about him."
In 2004 Robinson sued The Walt Disney Company for defamation, asking for between $1 and $10 million in damages. She contended that the 1999 TV movie Selma, Lord, Selma, a docudrama based on a book written by two young participants in Bloody Sunday, falsely depicted her as a stereotypical "black Mammy," whose key role was to "make religious utterances and to participate in singing spirituals and protest songs." She lost the case.
During the fall of 2007, Robinson toured Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and Italy in her capacity as Vice President of the Schiller Institute. She spoke with European youth about her support for LaRouche (who had denied facts about the 9/11 attacks), Martin Luther King, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as well as the continuing problem of racism in the United States, which she said was illustrated by the recent events in Jena, Louisiana.
Robinson retired as vice president of the Schiller Institute in 2009.
After suffering a series of strokes, Robinson died on 26 August 2015 in Montgomery, Alabama, eight days after celebrating her 110th birthday.
Legacy and awards
In 1990, Boynton (by then remarried and using the surname of Robinson) was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal. Her memoir, Bridge Across Jordan, includes tributes from friends and colleagues, including Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young. King wrote:
In Bridge Across Jordan, Amelia Boynton Robinson has crafted an inspiring, eloquent memoir of her more than five decades on the front lines of the struggle for racial equality and social justice. This work is an important contribution to the history of the black freedom struggle, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone who cares about human rights in America.
In 2014, the Selma City Council renamed five blocks of Lapsley Street as Boyntons Street to honor Amelia Boynton Robinson and Sam Boynton.
Robinson is played by Lorraine Toussaint in the 2014 film 'Selma, about the Selma Voting Rights Movement and its Selma to Montgomery marches. Robinson, then 109 years old, was unable to travel to see the film. Paramount Pictures set up a private screening in her home to include her friends and family. A CNN reporter was present to discuss the film and her experiences at Selma, and she said she felt the film was fantastic.
In 2015, Robinson attended the State of the Union Address in January at the invitation of President Barack Obama, and, in her wheelchair, was at Obama's side as he and others walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Selma Voting Rights Movement 50th Anniversary Jubilee that March.
While Robinson in her later life claimed a birthdate of 18 August 1911, it was eventually discovered she was in fact born 6 years earlier - she is recorded in the 1910 United States Census as age 4, and her driver's license provides a birth year of 1905 (citations needed).
- John A. Kirk (2005). Martin Luther King Jr. Pearson Longman. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-582-41431-0. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Associated Press (February 8, 1992). "Gardner yanks honor for civil rights leader". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Profile: Amelia Boynton Robinson, Biography.com. Retrieved December 23, 2014.
- "Amelia Boynton Robinson", Encyclopedia of Alabama
- Wertz, Marianna. "Tribute to Amelia Boynton Robinson". Schiller Institute. http://www.schillerinstitute.org/conf-iclc/2001/Labor%20Day/conf_sep_2001_mw_.html#mw. Retrieved August 12, 2010.
- Nikki L. M. Brown; Barry M. Stentiford (September 30, 2008). The Jim Crow Encyclopedia: Greenwood Milestones in African American History. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 16–17. ISBN 978-0-313-34181-6. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Reed, Roy (March 6, 1966). "'Bloody Sunday' Was Year Ago". The New York Times. New York City. p. 76. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
- Sheila Jackson Hardy; P. Stephen Hardy (August 11, 2008). Extraordinary People of the Civil Rights Movement. Paw Prints. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-4395-2357-5. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Lewis, Phillip (August 26, 2015). "Civil Rights Activist Amelia Boynton Robinson Dies at 104". ABC News. Archived from the original on August 28, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
- "Amelia Boynton Robinson". The HistoryMakers. http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/amelia-boynton-robinson-41. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
- "LAROUCHE ANNOUNCES RACE FOR HOUSE FROM JAIL CELL". The Washington Post. June 23, 1989. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
- Lyndon LaRouche: Fascism Restyled for the New Millennium (2003) by Helen Gilbert, pp. 27
- "Fifty years later, spotlight shines on civil rights icon Amelia Boynton Robinson". January 20, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
- "Disney Wins Defamation Case Filed by Civil Rights Activist". Lightfoot, Franklin, White, LLC. http://www.lightfootlaw.com/news-events/story.cfm?id=22. Retrieved August 12, 2010.
- "Civil Rights Heroine Amelia Robinson Organizes European Youth for LaRouche December 2007". Schiller Institute. Archived from the original on August 15, 2010. http://www.schillerinstitute.org/highlite/2007/amelia_euro_trip.html. Retrieved August 12, 2010.
- Gillesberg, Feride Istogu. "Amelia Robinson Takes Denmark by Storm". Executive Intelligence Review. http://www.larouchepub.com/other/2007/3440amelia_denmark.html. Retrieved August 12, 2010.
- Skutch, Jan. "Civil rights legend Amelia Boynton Robinson to return to Savannah State University". Savannah Morning News. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- "Mrs. Amelia Platts Boynton Returns Home to Savannah". The Savannah Tribune. February 16, 2011. Retrieved March 6, 2011.
- Boynton-Robinson, Amelia (1991). Marianna Wertz, ed. Bridge across Jordan. Schiller Institute. p. back cover. ISBN 978-0-9621095-4-6.
- Column Alvin Benn (August 24, 2014). "Street named for rights legends Sam and Amelia Boynton". Montgomery Advertiser. http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/opinion/columnists/al-benn/2014/08/24/street-named-rights-legends-sam-amelia-boynton/14546941/.
- Basu, Moni (January 10, 2015). "Watching 'Selma' with 103-year-old matriarch of the movement". CNN.
- Lucas, Phillip. "Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson dies at 104". The Miami Herald. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article32436168.html. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
- Amelia Boynton Robinson's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Amelia Boynton Robinson at the Encyclopedia of Alabama
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