Civil rights activist Amelia Boynton was born Amelia Platts on August 18, 1911, to George and Anna Platts of Savannah, Georgia. Both of her parents were of African-American, Cherokee Indian and German descent.
She graduated from Tuskegee with a home economics degree. After working as a teacher in Georgia, Boynton took a job as Dallas County’s home demonstration agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Selma, Alabama. In 1930, she met her co-worker, Dallas County extension agent Samuel Boynton. The two had in common their impassioned desire to better the lives of African-American members of their community, particularly sharecroppers. The couple married in 1936 and went on to have two sons, Bill Jr. and Bruce Carver. Over the next three decades, Amelia and Samuel collectively worked toward achieving voting, property and education rights for the poor African Americans of Alabama’s farm country.
Boynton’s early activism included co-founding the Dallas County Voters League in 1933, and holding African-American voter registration drives in Selma from the 1930s through the ’50s. Even Samuel’s death in 1963 did not deter Amelia’s commitment.
In 1964, as the Civil Rights Movement was picking up speed, Amelia Boynton ran on the Democratic ticket for a seat in Congress from Alabama—becoming the first African-American woman to do so, as well as the first woman to run as a Democratic candidate for Congress in Alabama. Although she didn’t win her seat, Boynton earned 10 percent of vote.
Also in 1964, Boynton and fellow civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. teamed up toward their common goals. At the time, Boynton figured largely as an activist in Selma. Still dedicated to securing suffrage for African Americans, she asked Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to come to Selma and help promote the cause. King eagerly accepted. Soon after, he and the SCLC set up their headquarters at Boynton’s Selma home. There, they planned the Selma to Montgomery March of March 7, 1965.
In 1990, Boynton was awarded the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Freedom. She continued to tour the United States on behalf of the Schiller Institute, which describes its mission as “working around the world to defend the rights of all humanity to progress—material, moral and intellectual,” until 2009. More recently, Boynton was a special guest at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2015.