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Bruce Boynton (2020), civil rights activist who inspired Freedom Rides

by Linnea Crowther

Bruce Boynton was a civil rights activist whose 1960 landmark Supreme Court case inspired the iconic Freedom Rides.

Taking a stand against injustice

Boynton was a law student at Howard University when he was arrested while traveling home to Selma, Alabama for the holidays. He was dining at a bus station restaurant designated “whites only” and when he failed to leave when ordered to, Boynton was sent to jail for the night. Aware that the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 prohibited discrimination in interstate travel, Boynton went to court, with future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908 – 1993) as his lawyer. Appealing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Boynton ultimately won, with the court asserting that the Interstate Commerce Act applied in bus stations and similar facilities as well as on the buses themselves. The decision inspired the Freedom Rides that began the following year, when Black and white civil rights activists rode interstate buses into the South together to test whether the law was being followed.

Boynton received his law degree and practiced for decades, focusing on focusing on fighting for civil rights. He became Alabama’s first Black special prosecutor. Boynton was the son of prominent civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson (1911 – 2015), who was instrumental in the fight for voting rights in the South and marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) and John Lewis (1940 – 2020) in the Selma to Montgomery marches.

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Tributes to Bruce Boynton

Full obituary: AL.com

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