- Position:Legacy Leaders
The Matriarch of the Voter’s Rights Act, Amelia Boynton helped Martin Luther King Jr. plan the Selma to Montgomery March on Bloody Sunday, which led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Amelia Boynton was born on August 18, 1911, in Savannah, Georgia. In 1964, as the Civil Rights Movement was picking up speed, Amelia Boynton ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat in Congress from Alabama—becoming the first African-American woman to do so, as well as the first woman to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Alabama.
Also in 1964, Boynton and fellow civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. teamed up toward their common goals. At the time, Boynton figured largely as an activist in Selma. Still dedicated to securing suffrage for African Americans, she asked Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to come to Selma and help promote the cause. King eagerly accepted. Soon after, he and the SCLC set up their headquarters at Boynton’s Selma home. There, they planned the Selma to Montgomery March of March 7, 1965.
Some 600 protesters arrived to participate in the event, which would come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” On the Edmund Pettus Bridge, over the Alabama River in Selma, marchers were attacked by policemen with tear gas and billy clubs. Seventeen protesters were sent to the hospital, including Boynton, who had been beaten unconscious. A newspaper photo of Boynton lying bloody and beaten drew national attention to the cause. Bloody Sunday prompted President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965, with Boynton attending as the landmark event’s guest of honor. In 1990, Boynton won the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom.