Continuing the Fight for Civil Rights

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Civil rights leader Amelia Boynton Robinson attended a special event at the Creative Visions Foundation in Malibu on Saturday, sharing stories of her ongoing work since the 1960s civil rights movement. 

Fifty years after blows from a policeman’s night stick knocked her unconscious during an anti-segregation march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., 103-year-old Amelia Boynton Robinson believes she has more work to do in the fight against civil injustice.

Robinson, the oldest living civil rights leader, held center stage on Saturday at a reception held in her honor at the Creative Visions Foundation in Malibu. The soft-spoken Robinson told a group of over 50 listeners she is glad to have blazed a trail.

“I’m so happy … this is what I asked God to do,” said Robinson, “…For young people to try and emulate me.” Creative Vision founder Kathy Eldon described the equal rights matron as eloquent beyond words.

“She is very composed. Not only is she taking everything in, she is a couple of steps ahead of us all. She is inspiring,” said Eldon, who started Creative Visions to celebrate the life and legacy of her son Dan, a 22-year-old photojournalist who was killed in 1993 while documenting the civil war in Somalia.

“Martin Luther King Jr. and Amelia Boynton Robinson are inspiring the world. All over the world there are civil rights, human rights movements that are happening as we speak,” she said.

Robinson was the first female of any race to run for congress in Alabama, and she helped convince King to come to her then-home in Selma and take a stand for blacks to have voting rights. After Robinson’s first husband and fellow voting rights activist S.W. “Bill” Boynton died in 1963, their home became the headquarters and meeting space for the nonviolent civil rights activists.

On March 7, 1965, Robinson was one of 600 people who put their bodies on the line during an attempted march for equal voting rights to Alabama’s capital. That day, which has become known as “Bloody Sunday,” Sheriff Jim Clark ordered Alabama state troopers to attack the marchers with billy clubs, cattle prods and tear gas as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. 

A state trooper hit Robinson in the arm and neck. As she laid unconscious on the street, a rain cap drooped over her face and somewhat protected her from the toxic fumes. 

A photo taken of the middle-aged and slumped-over Robinson is one of the defining images of that day. 

Leon Frazier, Robinson’s friend of 15 years, said the woman he affectionately calls “Queen Mother” has experienced permanent damage to her esophagus due to the tear gas. 

“She said she wears it like a badge of honor for the injustice they did to her,” Frazier said. “And Ms. Robinson has been living ever since taking care of business, loving children everywhere. She has been to about 11 or 12 nations preaching love, respect, unity and politics.”

Frazier spoke of Robinson’s upbringing in Georgia, her work teaching people about voting rights and the reason Robinson attended Clark’s funeral in 2007. 

“She does not believe in hatred,” he said.

After Bloody Sunday, more protesters joined the voting rights movement and on March 25, 1965, more than 25,000 people made the trek from Selma to Montgomery. Robinson attended President Lyndon Johnson’s historic signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on Aug. 6 of that year. 

During her seven-minute speech, all eyes, cameras and phones were focused on Robinson as she sat in her wheelchair and told listeners of her work feeding the needy and hungry in Selma and the South and how it was a precursor to 1968’s Poor People’s Campaign, which was an effort gain economic justice for people living in poverty. 

“Today every child in the United States of America can eat, and to me that was one of the rewarding things,” she said. 

After Robinson spoke, attendees took pictures and selfies with her as she softly smiled.

Robinson traveled to the Los Angeles area from her home in Tuskegee, Ala., in celebration of the success the Oscar-nominated film “Selma” has gained. The movie depicts the events surrounding “Bloody Sunday” and what happened that day. Actress Lorraine Toussaint plays Robinson in the movie. 

One day before the event in Malibu, Robinson was awarded the Nelson Mandela Award for Arts, Culture & Entertainment by the Cinema for Peace Foundation at a lunch in Hollywood. 

Lynn Speed, who has known Robinson for over 30 years and once directed Robinson’s play “Through the Years,” said Robinson still has more to do in life.

“This woman was beaten and left for dead 50 years ago on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and she is here with us today,” she said. “She is still sharing everything she can give of herself. She wants to keep on working.”