Interview with Amelia Boynton Robinson
QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

LET ME JUMP IN AND ASK YOU, ON FREEDOM DAY WHEN SNCC WAS IN TOWN, YOU MENTIONED BERNARD LAFAYETTE. AND THERE WAS FREEDOM DAY WHEN A LOT OF SNCC WORKERS TOOK PEOPLE DOWN TO THE COURTHOUSE TO MAKE A MASS PROTEST. DO YOU REMEMBER THAT DAY, AND TELL ME A LITTLE BIT OF WHAT HAPPENED. NOT SO MUCH OF WHAT HAPPENED, ACTUALLY, WHAT WAS THAT IMPACT ON THE COMMUNITY? HOW DID THAT IMPACT THE COMMUNITY, JUST THE EFFORT OF SNCC SORT OF JOINING FORCES WITH YOU?

Amelia Boynton Robinson:

Well, the very first thing is, so many of the whites tried to discourage black people and getting together. When SNCC came in was a time that Jim Clark, who was the man, the Sheriff, and having entire control over the city, over the county, over the people who came in. When he saw that SNCC came in, we were outsiders, he began to put articles in the papers talking about outsiders coming in disturbing the Negroes and changing our way of life. He did not stop with just talking about it. He decided that the best way to do is to put these people in jail. And there were many, many people who went to jail. They were old. They were young. They were children. They were college students. It made no difference whatsoever. He would herd them out and throw them in jail, The picture that you might have seen where Jim Clark caught me by my, the back of my coat as I came out of the courthouse vouching for some of the people, whirled me around and, I was unprepared for what he did. Because I left the courthouse with the intention of going to my office, and my office was also, the office, half of it was given to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I was going back and Jim Clark said to me, "You get in this line." And that line was one where he had sixty people standing up. He had planned on taking them upstairs in the courtroom, cursing them out and saying that if you do this again, you will go to jail. But when he grabbed me as I was going down the street and would not get in the line, I didn't know whether I should go limp, or whether I should turn around and knock him out, or whether I should just fall to the ground or let him go in and take me. These people who were standing waiting for him to give him, them a charge said to me, "Go on, Mrs. Boynton, you don't have to be in jail by yourself. We'll be there." So it gave me courage and I let him almost pick me up off of the ground by grabbing me, throwing me in the car. I was taken to the jail and there I was given the prints, the number of a criminal. I had finger prints taken, and mug shots and I was made a criminal. However, SCLC and SNCC, SNCC was in the forefront and they knew what was happening. Some of them were also in that line and when they were taken upstairs to be cursed out, they said, "We're going to jail." And when I knew anything, I heard the footsteps of these people, including some of SNCC folk, because Jim Clark was after the outsiders, as he called them. They took them up the steps. Some of these people were old and crippled, some were walking with sticks, some were youngsters, but it made no difference whatsoever. I was in the cell, and I felt very badly at first, but when I heard the footsteps of these people and heard them in the mumbling tones, saying something to the jailer, I knew then that I had courage to come back again if I had to. When they tried to open the big iron doors that they had to the jail, they could not get it open. They told the jailer to change the keys don't you have some more keys. They tried it and the door wouldn't open. And during that time, these people started singing when "God Closes the Door, No Man Can Open It." And they sang to the top of their voices and I felt good, being behind bars. I felt better than I think I felt during the whole time I was working and struggling and sacrificing in this movement. They could not get it open. They sent for the locksmith, the locksmith said, "I'll have to take the door off." Then they took all of those people back downstairs and brought them up on the elevator which they should have done from the beginning. And they said to me as they passed my cell, "I told you we would be here with you. I told you, you would not be here alone." And it was just a beautiful demonstration of the determination that our people had to be, try to get free.