Bruce Boynton
Born(1937-06-19)June 19, 1937
DiedNovember 23, 2020(2020-11-23) (aged 83)
OccupationCivil rights activist
Known forBoynton v. Virginia
Alice Cutler
(m. 1973; died 2001)
Betty Strong Boynton
(m. 2008)

Bruce Carver Boynton (June 19, 1937 – November 23, 2020) was an American civil rights leader who inspired the Freedom Riders movement and advanced the cause of racial equality by a landmark supreme court case Boynton v. Virginia.

Early life

Boynton grew up in Selma, Alabama.[1] His parents were civil rights activists, known in their community as Mr. and Mrs. Civil Rights, because of their participation in events like the Bloody Sunday march of 1965.[2] His mother, Amelia Boynton Robinson, was beaten during demonstrations for voting rights in 1965, and 50 years later was honored by then-President Barack Obama.[3]

Boynton v. Virginia

In 1958, Boynton ordered a cheeseburger while sitting in a whites only part of a restaurant at a bus station in Richmond, Virginia. He was arrested for trespassing after he refused to leave the restaurant and spent one night in jail. He was a law student at Howard University at the time,[4] and decided to fight his arrest in court. At trial, he was represented by Martin A. Martin.[5] He lost his case, but decided to appeal, until finally his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. His case, known as Boynton v. Virginia, was argued by Thurgood Marshall, who later became a justice of the Supreme Court. The court overturned Boynton's conviction, affirming that racial segregation in public transportation was illegal.[2][3]

In 2018 U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said of Boynton: "He did something that very few people would have the courage to do. He said no. To me he's on par with Rosa Parks," referring to the Black woman who did not give up her seat in the front part of a segregated bus to a white man.[6] Summarizing his impact, Thompson went on to say, "All he wanted was a cheeseburger, and he changed the course of history."

Boynton's actions inspired the Freedom Rides in 1961, where activists rode interstate buses through the Southern United States to protest segregated bus terminals.[7] While the Freedom Riders were arrested in a few southern states, including Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina, the actions prompted the then President John F. Kennedy to pass orders for a strict enforcement of the federal anti-discrimination laws.[3]


Boynton received a law degree from Howard University; however, Alabama refused to give him a law license for six years while they "investigated the circumstances" of Boynton v. Virginia.[8][9] He was forced to move to Chattanooga, Tennessee to practice law until Alabama granted him a license in 1965.[10] He worked as a civil rights attorney for most of his career until he retired. He served as Alabama's first Black special prosecutor.[11]

In 2018, Phillip McCallum, executive director of the Alabama State Bar, issued an apology for the delay in granting Boynton's license.[8]

Death and legacy

Boynton died on November 23, 2020, at the age of 83, two weeks before the 60th anniversary of his landmark case.[12][11] His death was announced by former Alabama State Senator Henry Sanders.[3] His daughter Carver Ann Boynton said the cause was cancer.[8]

On the day he died, the Dallas County Commission of Alabama voted to rename an annex of the Dallas County Courthouse in Selma in honor of Boynton and another prominent black lawyer, J. L. Chestnut, Jr.[8]


  1. ^ Gaillard, Frye; Lindsay, Jennifer; DeNeefe, Jane (March 2, 2010). Alabama's Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom. University of Alabama Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-8173-5581-4.
  2. ^ a b "Civil Rights Icon Bruce Boynton Dies At 83". Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d "Bruce Boynton, who inspired 1961 Freedom Rides, dies at 83". Seattle Times. Associated Press. November 24, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
  4. ^ Arsenault, Raymond (March 11, 2011). Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Oxford University Press. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-19-979242-9.
  5. ^ Tushnet, Mark V. (February 24, 1994). Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936–1961. Oxford University Press. p. 308. ISBN 978-0-19-535922-0.
  6. ^ "Bruce Boynton, who inspired 1961 Freedom Rides, dies at 83". Times Union. November 25, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.
  7. ^ "Bruce Boynton, who inspired 1961 Freedom Rides, dies at 83". AP NEWS. November 24, 2020. Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d Genzlinger, Neil (November 27, 2020). "Bruce Boynton, Plaintiff in Landmark Civil Rights Case, Dies at 83". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 28, 2020.
  9. ^ Cahela, Brannon (November 24, 2020). "Courthouse Annex to be named for Boynton, Chestnut". The Selma Times‑Journal. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  10. ^ "ATTY. BRUCE BOYNTON". The Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, & Reconciliation. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  11. ^ a b "Civil Rights Icon Bruce Boynton Dies At 83". Retrieved November 26, 2020.
  12. ^ "Bruce Boynton, the man who inspired 1961 Freedom Rides, dead at 83". New York Post. Associated Press. November 25, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2020.