About the Matriarch of the Voters Rights Movement & Her Family
AMELIA ISADORA PLATTS was born August 18, 1911 in the port city of Savannah, Georgia, to the Late George and Anna Hicks Platts. She was the seventh of ten children. Their father was a building contractor and their mother was a dressmaker, realtor and civil rights -activist, who was the elected the first secretary of the Colored Chamber of Commerce in 1924 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She traced her history on both sides to a mixture of African, Cherokee tribe of Native Americans and German and other European blood. Amelia was the last of her ten siblings; however, she has many nieces and nephews who reside in various cities around the country, with significant numbers of them in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where her parents and some of her siblings resided until their deaths. She was a 1927 graduate of Tuskegee Institute under the leadership of Dr. Robert Russa Moton, its second president. At her death, Amelia was the second oldest living graduate of Tuskegee University. In 1976, after living and working in various areas, including Selma, Alabama and Americus, Georgia, where she was a high school teacher, Mrs. Robinson returned to reside in the city of her alma mater with her third husband, Mr. James Robinson of Oklahoma. An account of the life of this remarkable woman is given in the book, Bridge Across Jordan, highlighting Mrs. Robinson’s life-long struggle for civil and human rights for all colors. It has been published and translated in five languages. Several significant reviews are given in Bridge Across Jordan. One is by the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King, who 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.” Former United States Ambassador Andrew Young cites, “Amelia Boynton Robinson came to visit us in Atlanta, and invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma. At that time, Selma was almost under as many restrictions as South Africa. It was against the law for more than four people to meet in a public place, and no more than three people could walk down the street together for any purpose. In joining Dr. King to help free Selma, Amelia Boynton helped to develop the pattern that led to a worldwide human rights movement, and the victories in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, Southern Africa and China all bear the influence of the Selma Movement.” Amelia Boynton Robinson is perhaps best reflected in American history as one of two women, the other being Mrs. Marie Foster, behind the six men at the front of the march, who were gassed, beaten unconscious and left to die on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma during the “Bloody Sunday” incident on March 7, 1965. During that encounter, eye witnesses such as Joe Jones who, as a 17-year-old student was captured in a photograph trying to aid the unconscious Mrs. Boynton, report that they thought she was dead. None of the authorities attempted to provide help for her. When someone told Sheriff Jim Clark that Mrs. Boynton might be dead, he replied, “Let the buzzards eat her.” Maurice Anderson, a Black funeral home director ignored the Sheriff and backed his ambulance onto the bridge to pick up Mrs. Boynton. She was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital where she later regained consciousness.
Mrs. Nancy Anderson, whose grandson is Mr. Terry Walker, the proprietor of Walkers Mortuary Services of Selma, was on the Bridge that day and suffered the loss of an eye. After legal and political intervention, the marchers were successful weeks later in their quest to complete the march from Selma to Montgomery, which quickly led to the mushrooming of the civil and voting rights movement into an international mass movement. But Mrs. Robinson’s efforts for justice and civil rights began long before 1965. From the 1930s, she and her first husband, Mr. Samuel William “Bill” Boynton, Sr., as residents of Selma, along with fighters like Mr. C.J. Adams, fought for voting rights and property ownership for African-Americans in the poorest rural areas of Alabama, where they worked as Agents for the United States Department of Agriculture. In her position, Amelia became the first woman in America to serve as a County Agent with the Department. Discriminated against by whites and ostracized by blacks who were afraid to associate with them, the Boyntons found the struggle for freedom and survival an uphill battle. The Boyntons were the first Blacks in Alabama to own an insurance company, as well as a real-estate and employment agency. Together, they helped to raise funds and built a community center in Selma that was used primarily by African Americans, who previously did not have a facility where they could hold events as the white citizens of Selma did. On May 5, 1964, Amelia was the first woman in the State of Alabama to run for office in the United States Congress, garnering 10.7 percent of the vote at a time when very few African Americans were allowed to vote. At death, Dr. Boynton Robinson had been a registered voter for 83 years.
As the late Rev. James L. Bevel stated following the 1995 performance program in Washington, D.C. of the play, “Through The Years,” written by Mrs. Robinson, “[b]efore the world knew that there was a Martin Luther King, Jr., C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, or Hosea Williams, or before a Bernard LaFayette, James Bevel, John Lewis, Marion Barry or Diane Nash were born, Amelia was fighting illiteracy and fear in African American people with love. Not only did she raise the moral and intellectual standard of her people through education, in 1936, she wrote the play to further inspire the people and to raise funds to carry on the liberation struggle.” The recipient of numerous awards and citations, Mrs. Robinson was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Freedom Medal in 1990, and in 2005, during the commemoration of the “Bloody Sunday” March, SCLC/W.O.M.E.N., Incorporated of Atlanta, Georgia and the National Voting Rights Institute and Museum of Selma unveiled a monument in Mrs. Robinson’s honor at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. During its 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2007, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference honored her with its highest award, the Rosa Parks Award, which was established in 1962 by Dr. King when he served as president of the organization. Amelia was a member of the Daughters of Isis, Mizraim Court #110, and she was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Amelia was cofounder of the Voting Rights Institute and Museum, as well as the Annual Jubilee that commemorates “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. Dr. Robinson, who was bestowed an Honorary Doctorate at the National Conference of Black Lawyers by Community College of Law and International Diplomacy in Chicago on May 19, 1996, was married to the late Samuel W. Boynton in 1936 and for 27 years until his untimely death on May 13, 1963.
Truly a family person, Amelia helped to raise (along with their son, Bruce) her stepson, S. William “Bill” Boynton, II, and her youngest brother George’s daughters, Germaine Platts Bowser and Sharon Platts Seay, as her own daughters. After husband Bill’s death Amelia continued the fight for voting rights and other privileges for the downtrodden. Portions of what became the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were written at her kitchen table in Selma. The national school lunch program started after a 1967 visit by then-Assistant to the USDA Secretary William M. Seabron, upon Amelia’s request. Hundreds of acres of land purchased between 1940’s and 1960’s to help poor Blacks end sharecropping for others and to begin producing crops for themselves were used under the model established by the Boynton’s in Dallas County. A bust of Mr. Boynton proudly stands in the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana, Alabama, honoring his commitment to helping the underprivileged and disenfranchised. Over seven years after Mr. Boynton’s death, Amelia joined in holy matrimony with her second husband, Mr. Robert William Billups in 1971. They lived as husband and wife for four years until that fateful day in 1975 when he drowned in a boating accident in the Savannah harbor. Amelia and their friend, Mrs. Gloria Maddox of Selma, were the only survivors of the seven passengers on a small boat in that tragic occurrence. In 1976, Amelia married Mr. James Robinson. She resided at Tuskegee Institute in the home her husband built prior to their marriage. He later succumbed to complications of diabetes in 1988, leaving her to live again as a widow. In the 1970’s, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development had a low-income housing program in which poor families could own a home with the cost based upon the annual income and its size based upon the number Boynton Robinson and son, Bruce, had received authorization to build the first 28 of 80 homes around 30 acres of lakes in the Dallas County area. President Richard Nixon issued an Executive Order that froze the program and Congress replaced it with the Section 8 Program. During her 96th Birthday Celebration in 2007, Mrs. Boynton Robinson was honored by hundreds of family members, friends and associates in the celebration of her long and storied life. Having informed several of her loved ones that she does not want money spent on flowers in her death, a collective effort was planned to give her flowers while she lived and to facilitate a reconciliation of some of the negatives which were caused by law enforcement officials against her and her husband in Selma from the 1930s up to 1965. A remarkable tribute to Amelia occurred in Tuskegee in 2007 by law enforcement officials who ranged from Alabama State Troopers to Dallas and Macon Counties Deputy Sheriffs to Tuskegee’s Chief of Police and Officers that began with a grand limousine escort from her home to the celebration site, Booker T. Washington High School. Through her affiliation with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom as well as Schiller Institute, which she served as vice chair for about 25 years, Amelia Boynton Robinson toured the Nation and World, speaking on behalf of the principles of civil and human rights, a cause she championed for more than nine decades. Because of her love for young people as the hope for the future, she founded in 2006 a youth institution called The Village of Hope, Incorporated, based in Tuskegee, and until 2013, established the Amelia Boynton Robinson Civil and Voting Rights Museum in the basement of her home. Now, Tuskegee University, through its Archives Department, serves as the holder of her personal memorabilia and collectibles.
In 2011, Amelia’s family founded the Amelia Boynton Robinson Foundation, Incorporated. In addition, the house in which she and her husband, Bill, called home in Selma, was named to the Alabama Register by the Alabama Historical Commission in 2008. Also during that year, the house was placed on the list of Places in Peril by the Commission, which will allow funding to be secured to help restore it. Mrs. Boynton Robinson had high hopes of the house being named a National Historic Site someday, especially since so many civil and voting rights icons and others visited it over the years. Persons like Dr. George Washington Carver (her son, Bruce’s godfather), Mrs. Booker T. Washington, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Jesse Jackson, Activist Dick Gregory, former United States Ambassador Andrew Young, and many others frequented the house because it provided one of few places for Movement strategy meetings and for lodging for the Movement participants since public accommodations were not opened to African Americans until the late 1960s. Speaking of public accommodations, Mrs. Boynton Robinson’s son, Bruce, a law student at the time, went into the White section at a bus terminal in Richmond, Virginia to purchase food when in route home for the Christmas holidays in 1958 from Washington, D.C. on Trailways bus line. Bruce was arrested for trespassing, found guilty of a misdemeanor and fined. Several appeals were filed and lost at the local and state levels.
Then-attorney Thurgood Marshall brought the matter before the United States Supreme Court which ruled in the landmark decision of Boynton v. Commonwealth of Virginia, striking down segregation in interstate travel. This case was the precursor to the Freedom Riders “test” of the new law it established. Boynton was Marshall’s last case argued before the Supreme Court prior to being appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to serve as Solicitor General. Marshall went from there to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and ultimately to become the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Amelia Boynton Robinson, enshrined the “Matriarch of the Voting Rights Movement” in 2007, continued to give of herself in service to humanity. In January 2008, she attended and supported then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign stop in Birmingham, Alabama, during which he publicly acknowledged her presence and the audience rose to its feet with a thunderous round of applause. In February 2010 and 2011, Mrs. Robinson returned to her hometown of Savannah during African American History Month to participate in several programs and to receive accolades and citations from government officials as well as from churches and other local organizations. In March 2010, during the 45th Commemorative Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” she participated with the hundreds attending by giving a first-hand account of what happened on that tragic day in American history.
About the Foundation
The primary focus of The Amelia Boynton Robinson Foundation is to perpetuate the global contributions of Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson by advocating for voter's empowerment, civil rights, economic development and to promote higher education. The foundation's mission is to provide scholarships and support to college students whom are in need.
Upon the wishes of Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson, in lieu of flowers we asked that you make donations to assist in establishing The Amelia Boynton Robinson Foundation. You may do so in c/o Marion Bank & Trust Company, 2400 Highway 80 West, Selma, AL 36702.
To make a future tax deductible donations, please submit your gift to our fiduciary partner, Sams Memorial Community Partnership For Social Economic Development, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, EIN# 58-1974094. You may mail your donations to The Amelia Boynton Robinson Foundation c/o Sams C.E.D., 1072 Morning Glory Lane, SE, Darian, GA, 31305. All contributors will be recognized for their level of giving. To learn more about The Amelia Boynton Robinson Foundation, visit www.ameliaboyntonrobinson.org as they develop.
About the Production
Through The Years: A Three-Act Drama and Musical by Dr. Amelia Boynton Robinson - Click to Learn More