*Civil rights pioneer Bruce Carver Boynton, who inspired the “Freedom Rides” of 1961, died Monday at age 83.
Boynton’s arrest at a segregated bus station in Virginia in the late 1950’s led to a Supreme Court ruling that prohibited segregation at bus facilities.
“He did something that very few people would have the courage to do. He said no,” U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said of Boynton in 2018. “To me he’s on a par with Rosa Parks.”
Here’s more from The Associated Press:
Boynton was attending law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., when he boarded a bus bound for Alabama in 1958. The bus pulled into a station in Richmond, Virginia, for a break, and Boynton went inside to eat. Seeing that the part of the restaurant meant for blacks had water on the floor and looked “very unsanitary,” Boynton said he sat down in the “clinically clean” white area. He told the waitress he would have a cheeseburger and tea.
“She left and came back with the manager. The manager poked his finger in my face and said … move,’” using a racial slur, Boynton recalled in an interview with The AP. “And I knew that I would not move, and I refused to, and that was the case.”
Bruce Carver Boynton, a civil rights pioneer who inspired the landmark “Freedom Rides” of 1961, has died at 83. His arrest at a racially segregated bus station in Virginia led to a Supreme Court decision extending federal anti-discrimination protections. https://t.co/UoeCwu0T80
— The Associated Press (@AP) November 24, 2020
Boyton was convicted of trespassing and he appealed. His case moved up before the Supreme Court, with Thurgood Marshall as his attorney.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1960 that segregation on interstate buses, including bus stations and other facilities linked to interstate travel, was unlawful. The decision ultimately helped abolish Jim Crow laws in the South.
Dozens of Black and white students put the ruling to the test the following year by travelling on buses to the South. These “Freedom Riders” were arrested or attacked by racists in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina, and a bus was blocked on the road and burned by white supremacists.
John F. Kennedy was president at the time, and he cracked down on stricter enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws.
“He was a pioneer,” former Alabama state Sen. Hank Sanders said of Boyton. “All of the Freedom Rides sprung from this particular action.”
Thompson said in 2018 that Boynton serves as “a teaching lesson for all of us about how we can make a difference.”
“All he wanted was a cheeseburger, and he changed the course of history.”