Bruce Bryton is a name most people have never heard of. Yet, he played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement. Many names come to mind when people talk about this movement. One even includes Boynton’s own mother, Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was beaten in 1965 and then later honored by President Barack Obama.
Now, 60 years later, Bruce is finally being honored for the contributions he made to the cause. Bruce entered the wrong side of a segregated bus station in Virginia and found himself arrested soon after, according to Montgomery Advertiser.
He contested his conviction and his appeal made waves all the way to the Supreme Court and helped inspire the Freedom Rides of 1961. Bruce was apparently only trying to get a cheeseburger, and didn’t intend to make a political statement, but decided to defend himself when he was arrested for the color of his skin.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson put the event together to honor Bruce and remind everyone that anyone can make a difference. Anyone can change the course of history.
Bruce boarded a bus headed to Alabama in 1958. The bus was segregated even though federal laws had banned interstate travel segregation.
The bus pulled into Richmond, Virginia bus station for a break so Boynton left the bus and went inside for a quick bite. He noticed the “black” part of the dining area looked unsanitary and had water on the floor. He went over to the clean “white” area and sat down and ordered a burger and a tea.
The waitress came back with her manager who told Boynton to move. He didn’t move because he came from a family of Civil Rights Activists and felt the right thing to do was to remain seated. He was convicted of trespassing.
The Supreme Court ruled a 7-2 favor that the earlier law that banned segregation in interstate travel also applied to bus stations, where Boynton found himself that day.
Boynton’s decision not to move off the seat that was meant for a person with white skin and then to appeal his trespassing conviction is what started the Freedom Rides of 1961 where blacks and whites came together to travel all over the south and test if the law was being upheld. He didn’t get credit for it, wasn’t recognized in the history books, and didn’t become a household name.
Boynton is still alive today. Although in his 80s and not in great health, he was able to attend the event and speak about his life.