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Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson
Amelia Platts Boynton Robinson (August 18, 1911 – August 26, 2015) was an American activist 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.
Amelia Platts was born in Savannah, Georgia on August 18, 1911 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, an 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.)
Platts 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 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 March 7, 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 March 24, 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.
In February 2011, aged 99, Robinson returned to her hometown of Savannah, to address students at Savannah State University.
After suffering a series of strokes, Robinson died on August 26, 2015 in Montgomery, Alabama, eight days after celebrating her 104th birthday.