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Nov. 27 (UPI) — Bruce Boynton, a civil rights activist and attorney who helped inspire the historic Freedom Rides of 1961, has died. He was 83.
Former Alabama Sen. Hank Sanders announced the death of Boynton, a longtime friend, on Facebook earlier this week.
Boynton was arrested in 1958 after refusing to leave the “Whites-only” section of a bus station restaurant in Richmond, Va., while traveling on a bus bound for Alabama.
“Even though I didn’t expect to be served, I expected something like, ‘It’s not me. It’s the law,’ ” he later told a historian. “But the White waitress called the manager who put his finger in my face” and told him “Move,” using a racial slur. “That crystallized what I was going to do,” he added. “I did not move.”
Boynton, a student at Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., was convicted of misdemeanor trespassing, but challenged his sentence with the aid of Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first Black justice on the Supreme Court.
The appeal led to the historic ruling Boynton v. Virginia in 1962, which made bus station segregation illegal.
The ruling led to the 1961 Freedom Rides movement, when Black and White civil rights activists boarded buses to the Deep South to protest segregated buses and bus stations.
The Freedom Rides led to a bloody chain of events that finally forced the Kennedy administration to take action on civil rights legislation.
Bruce Carver Boynton was born in Selma, Ala., in 1937 and was named in part for his godfather, agricultural scientist George Washington Carver, who taught both of Boynton’s parents at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Boynton’s parents worked for the U.S. Agriculture Department and also opened insurance and real estate offices.
Boynton graduated from Nashville’s Fisk University in 1956 and opened a law office in Chattanooga five years later, after graduating from law school school. He initially planned to work in Selma, but was forced to wait six years as the Alabama state bar finished investigating his arrest and permitted him to practice law in the state.
His first marriage ended in divorce. In 1973 Boynton married Alice Cutler, who died in 2001. In 2008 he married Betty Strong.
Boynton is survived by Strong, as well as two daughters, three stepchildren, two sisters, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Notable deaths of 2020
Longtime Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks to the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem on April 26, 2015. Erekat died of COVID-19 in a Jerusalem hospital on November 10 at the age of 65. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo