Saturday, June 16, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1618 - I learned so much, and I lift Bruce Carver Boynton!

  I learned so much. I had heard the stories on many occasions, but I never heard the full story. I did not even know that I had not heard the full story.

  The story is about Bruce Carver Boynton of Selma. The focus is on an act of resistance by a 21-year-old boy/man. It happened way back in 1958. It impacted him for the rest of his life. It impacted a whole lot of people for the rest of their lives. It impacted me for the rest of my life. I was sixteen years old at the time and did not know about this act of resistance. I learned so much.

  The central character in the story is Bruce Carver Boynton. Other important characters are Samuel Boynton, Amelia Boynton Robinson, and Anna E. Platts. Samuel is the father of Bruce. Amelia is the mother of Bruce. Anna is the grandmother of Bruce. They touched his life in profound ways. They set examples of fearlessly lifting their people, and it led to this moment of resistance.

  Before I share more about Samuel and Amelia, let me tell you about the occasion that caused me to learn so much. It was an event honoring Bruce Carver Boynton. It was held in The Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Federal Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama in the historic courtroom where Judge Johnson held court. Judge Johnson was a courageous jurist during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. His many great judicial moments included being the judge who heard the Bus Boycott Case and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March case. He decided so many pivotal civil rights cases. This occasion I attended was sponsored by the Freedom Riders Museum. I learned so much.

  Samuel and Amelia began struggling for voting rights in 1930. They urged every Black person to register and vote. They urged every person to own a piece of land. They explained that voting and owning land empowered them individually and collectively. They never stopped. Both Samuel and Amelia played profound roles in the 1960s during the voting rights movement and so much more. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave women the right to vote. Anna encouraged Black women in Georgia to vote after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. She took Amelia with her as a young girl who then learned to register people. I learned so much.

  Bruce had a very distinguished family who encouraged him to be his best. He graduated from high school at 14, Howard University at 18, and Howard Law School at 21. He had a job while he was in college and law school. Therefore, he did not get to go home to Selma very often. He finally saved enough money to get a bus ticket from Washington, D.C. to Montgomery. He was going home for Christmas. The bus stopped in Richmond, Virginia for a 40-minute layover. Bruce ordered a cheeseburger from the White restaurant in the bus station. He was not protesting; he just wanted to eat with dignity. They refused to serve him and called the police. He was arrested, tried and convicted.

  Mind you, this was several years before the organized Freedom Rides. There were no organizations planning a protest. There was no one to back Bruce up. He was in jail for three days without being able to contact anyone. Finally, he contacted a Richmond minister who was the father of one of Bruce’s law school classmates.

  Bruce Boynton’s case went through the Richmond municipal courts, Virginia state courts, and all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The great Thurgood Marshall argued his case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The court rendered a decision in 1960. The decision not only freed Bruce but declared that segregation in interstate travel was unconstitutional. It was a powerful decision that bore all kinds of fruits, including the subsequent Freedom Riders to test the ruling. It was the first Freedom Ride.

  When I hear people speak of Freedom Riders, I do not hear the name Bruce Carver Boynton. I do not hear the name of the first Freedom Rider. I do not hear the name of the man who laid the legal foundation for subsequent Freedom Riders. I do not hear the name Bruce Carver Boynton when we talk about the demise of segregation in interstate travel. Initially, he did it by himself. Of course, he had legal help from Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

  All Freedom Riders paid a price for insisting on riding buses for equality. Some were beaten. All were terrorized. But Bruce paid a great price. Bruce was allowed to take the Alabama Bar, which he passed easily. However, the Bar refused to allow him to practice in Alabama. He went to Tennessee, passed the bar, and practiced there for some years. It was six years before he was allowed to practice law in his home state. Bruce paid a high price for standing up and being arrested, convicted and then fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even after he won in the highest court, he continued to pay a price by being banned from practicing law in his home state.

  It was a blessing to learn so much about the legal struggles of Bruce Carver Boynton. Incidentally, the 'Carver' is for George Washington Carver. Tuskegee Institute’s George Washington Carver was close to the Boynton family. Bruce’s middle name was in recognition of that important relationship. It was a great blessing to see Bruce Carver Boynton lifted appropriately.

Epilogue – How do we really know the impact of what we do? How do others really know the impact of what we do? Neither question is easy to answer. However, when we recognize someone has done something truly impactful, even if it has been 60 years, we must lift the feat for others to understand and celebrate. I lift Bruce Carver Boynton.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

No comments:

Post a Comment