Attorney Bruce Boynton dies at 83; his courageous act fueled Freedom Rides and Civil Rights Movement of 1960’s

Civil Rights Attorney and Alabama’s first Black Special Prosecutor, died Monday, November 23, 2020 in a Montgomery hospital at age 83. Boynton is saluted for his courageous act of sitting in a Virginia bus station cafe to order a cheeseburger and hot tea, which eventually led to a milestone US Supreme Court decision.
In December 1958, Boynton, a student at Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. was traveling home (Selma, AL) by bus and entered the white area of a bus station in Richmond, VA. Boynton stated in a 2018 media interview that he sat in the clinically clean section reserved for Whites instead of the filthy area reserved for Blacks to order a cheeseburger and hot tea.
The young Boynton refused to comply when he was denied service by the White management and ordered to leave. A police officer was called and Boynton was arrested and charged under Virginia law with a misdemeanor for remaining “upon the lands or premises of another, after having been forbidden to do so.” He was fined $10, but he appealed.
In the 1960 case of Boynton v. Virginia, Bruce Boynton was represented by Civil Rights Attorney Thurgood Marshall (the future first Black Supreme Court Justice) when the case reached the US Supreme Court. The Court found for Mr. Boynton, ruling that as an interstate traveler he was protected from discrimination under the Interstate Commerce Act.
Although this ruling was not a blanket condemnation of discriminatory practices in restaurants, Boynton’s case was a significant steppingstone in the growing Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960’s and led directly to the Freedom Riders protests of 1961.
These protest, which included the late Congressman John R Lewis, and the Marion and Selma Alabama protests led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting rights Act of 1965.
After passing the Alabama Bar exam, Attorney Boynton was not granted his state license for six years as the Bar investigated his 1961 arrest in Virginia.
Attorney Boynton was a low-profile figure in civil rights history. His mother Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, held a more visible role in the Movement. She helped organize the 1965 Voting Rights march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where she, John Lewis and many others were beaten by state troopers.
In the words of another Civil Rights Attorney, the former Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders: “Bruce Boynton was a hero because he stood; Bruce Boynton was a hero because he served; Bruce Boynton was a hero because he paid a price for the rest of his life; Bruce Boynton was a hero because he helped change this country.”