Bruce Boynton, hero of the US civil rights motion – obituary

Opposition to the American version of apartheid came, of course, from Bruce Carter Boyton, who was born on June 19, 1937 in Selma, Alabama, where his parents Sam and Amelia (née Platts) were both active in voter registration. Amelia stood for a vote in 1932, which was no easy task for a woman in a state where any black person who wanted to exercise their rights faced major obstacles.

Both parents had attended the Tuskegee Institute and studied with the well-known botanist George Washington Carver, who was Bruce’s godfather and source of his middle name. Bruce was a precocious student who finished high school at 14 and received his BA from Fisk University at 18. At 21, he received his law degree from Howard University.

He returned to Alabama upon graduation, but while the state bar was “investigating” his abuse conviction for six years, he moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he worked on the defense of sit-in protesters.

In 1965, on America’s Bloody Sunday, his mother was brutally beaten at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the start of a march on the state capital in Montgomery. Photos of her went around the world. When President Barack Obama marched across the bridge on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 2015, he was holding Emilia Boynton, then 103, in her wheelchair.

Bruce, who eventually practiced in Alabama, defended activists like Stokley Carmichael and was himself attacked by a county sheriff and two MPs. He defended a client on a plea for insanity caused by endemic racial abuse.

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