Celebrating Amelia Boynton Robinson for 101 years

Published 10:22 pm Friday, August 17, 2012

Dear Editor,

I wish to express Happy Birthday wishes to my mother-in-law, Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, the Mother of the Voting Rights Act, who shall be 101 this August 18, 2012. I am sure that readers are familiar with the many precedents established by her since she came to Selma in 1929 in the area of civil rights as a champion for the black communities of Selma and Dallas County, and throughout the state of Alabama. That she and her husband, Bill Boynton, started working in 1929 in this area for blacks to become registered voters and to purchase land because, “the only way for a colored farmer to remain on a white man’s place was to turn into a white face calf.” Alabama State Troopers left her for dead on the Edmund Pettus Bridge because of her efforts to have blacks to become registered voters. However, I want to relay one lesser-known incident, which bespeaks of the life she has led.

During the spring of 1974, Mrs. Robinson, her then husband Robert Billups, Margaret Moore and Gloria Maddox traveled to Savannah, Ga. at the invitation of W.J. Anderson, Jr. While in her hometown, they decided to visit an island settled by slaves, who have retained customs and mores of Africa more than any other place in America. They planned to go to this island for various reasons: Mrs. Moore to learn more of African traditions, Mrs. Maddox to interview people for her radio program, Mr. Billups to accompany his wife and Mrs. Robinson wanted to go to see whether there were some economic developments that could be brought to the island.

They took a very small boat to go to there piloted by a resident of the island and as they traveled up river on a body of water as wide as the Mississippi across the other side of the water they met the Vagabond: a converted World War II PT boat that had been converted for tourist at Hilton Head Island. It was on an errant to the Savannah Airport to pick up some persons and, because it was running late, it was traveling wide open.

Although the two boats never met the wake from the Vagabond capsized the smaller boat and threw all passengers and the captain into the water. When Mrs. Robinson surfaced she saw that he was floating face down on the river. Mrs. Maddox was holding to the turned boat and Mr. Billups was clinging to a floating gasoline can. The water was some 40 degrees temperature and Mrs. Moore was clinging on the back of Mrs. Robinson pleading “Please Boynton, don’t let me die.” Mrs. Robinson could not swim.

Mr. Billups gave the gasoline can to Mrs. Maddox and held on to the boat that shortly sank drowning him although the giving of the gasoline can saved Mrs. Maddox’s life. Mrs. Robinson kept Mrs. Moore afloat for some 40 minutes in water that the Coast Guard said had only 15 minutes survival time. A high school ecology class that was seeking trash in the river and thought that they were debris rescued them. Only Mrs. Robinson survived. Mrs. Moore died on the way to a Hilton Head hospital.

I submit this occurrence involving this remarkable woman who clearly had a role in God’s plan for this community.

Betty Boynton