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Bruce Boynton, man who inspired the Freedom Rides, passes away

The 83-year-old civil rights activist died after a battle with cancer.

Bruce Boynton AP Photo/Jay Reeves

The civil rights pioneer who helped inspire the 1961 Freedom Rides passed away on Monday morning (Nov. 23) following a battle with cancer. Bruce Carver Boynton was 83 years old.

“There is a sadness. His was a tremendous life well lived. We’re happy he’s no longer in pain but I’m also amazed at his fight and his strength and that he continued to fight and write even after the initial diagnosis of cancer,” his daughter Carver Boynton told the Alabama Local News. “From being a student in law school until his passing, he really dedicated his life to civil rights and defending the rights of others.”

Boynton reportedly died in a Montgomery hospital, hours before a courthouse was renamed after him and fellow activist J.L. Chestnut.

Boynton — born on June 19, 1937, in Selma, Alabama — was born into a family of civil rights activists and later became one himself. In 1958, while he was a law student at Howard University, he moved from the unsanitary Black section of a Virginia bus station restaurant to the clean white-only section, and was arrested and convicted of trespassing because of his refusal to leave. He appealed the decision and was represented by Thurgood Marshall in a case that ended with the Supreme Court declaring the Virginia facility was not exempt from federal anti-discrimination laws.

The controversy following the activist’s arrest prevented him from practicing law in Alabama, so he moved to Tennessee where he practiced for six years until the bar in his home state admitted him.

Boynton’s lawsuit inspired the 1961 Freedom Rides, political protests by African Americans who boarded interstate buses to challenge segregration and ensure riders complied with the anti-discrimination laws, which were strictly enforced at a later time.

He is survived by his wife Betty and two daughters. His funeral has not yet been arranged.

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