SELMA, Ala. (AP) — Bruce Carver Boynton, a civil rights pioneer from Alabama who inspired the landmark “Freedom Rides” of 1961, died Monday. He was 83.
Former Alabama state Sen. Hank Sanders, a friend of Boynton’s, on Tuesday confirmed his passing.
Boynton was arrested 60 years ago for entering the white part of a racially segregated bus station in Virginia and launching a chain reaction that ultimately helped to bring about the abolition of Jim Crow laws in the South. Boynton contested his conviction, and his appeal resulted in a US Supreme Court decision that prohibited bus station segregation and helped inspire the “Freedom Rides.”
Despite his pivotal role, Boynton was not as well known as other civil rights figure. Yet both his mother and father were early civil rights activists. His mother, Amelia Boynton Robinson, was savagely beaten while demonstrating for voting rights in 1965 and was honored by then-President Barack Obama 50 years later.
“He did something that very few people would have the courage to do. He said no,” US District Judge Myron Thompson said of Boynton in 2018. “To me he’s on a par with Rosa Parks,” the Black woman who refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.
Boynton described his arrest in a 2018 interview with The Associated Press.
Boynton was attending law school at Howard University in Washington, when he boarded a bus bound for Alabama in 1958. Public facilities including bus stations were separated by race across the South at the time, despite federal laws banning segregation in interstate travel.
The bus pulled into a station in Richmond, Virginia, for a break, and Boynton went inside to eat. Seeing that the part of the restaurant meant for blacks had water on the floor and looked “very unsanitary,” Boynton said he sat down in the “clinically clean” white area. He told the waitress he would have a cheeseburger and tea.
“She left and came back with the manager. The manager poked his finger in my face and said ... move,’” using a racial slur, Boynton recalled in the interview. “And I knew that I would not move, and I refused to, and that was the case.”