By Sarrah Peters
The Gadsden Public Library’s Black History Month programs concluded on February 27 with a lecture by Attorney Bruce Boynton of the Supreme Court civil rights case of Boynton vs. Virginia.
The father of Gadsden’s own Carver Boynton, Bruce Boynton is considered a “foot soldier” in the Civil Rights movement.
In 1958, while traveling home to Montgomery from Washington, D.C., where he attended Howard University Law School, Boynton was arrested in the state of Virginia for sitting at the white section of a lunch counter. Boynton says that he saw the black restaurant, but it was a very unsanitary place, with floor seating and sitting water, and he felt insulted that he was expected to eat there. He took a seat at the white lunch counter and ordered a sandwich from the waitress. The waitress returned with the manager, who rudely demanded he move with his finger in Boynton’s face.
“I hadn’t decided what I would do, until that point,” said Boynton. “And that galvanized my action, which was no action. I refused to move and I was taken to jail.”
His case, Boynton vs. Virginia, was taken to the Supreme Court, where civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall argued his case and resulted in the 1960 ruling to desegregate interstate facilities, even if the facilities were leased to a separate business. This breakthrough case paved the way for the Freedom Riders of 1961 and 1964’s Civil Rights Act.
Boynton’s actions also changed how people fought segregation and voting laws. His actions led to sit-ins at white counters and court appeals when laws were unjust, as opposed to just when the laws were not upheld.
Boynton said that he was always defiant and fought discrimination both before and after this particular incident. He often spent train rides politely refusing to move to the designated black section. Afterwards, Boynton became a lawyer, despite Alabama refusing to allow him to practice law in the state. He became a lawyer in Tennessee and helped others fight civil rights injustices.