On March 7, 1965, Amelia Boynton Robinson was beaten and left for dead in Selma, Ala., on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the historic march for voting rights. A longtime educator and activist in Alabama's Black Belt, Boynton Robinson has seen many of her activist friends and peers pass on, like Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height.
The oldest living graduate of Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), Boynton Robinson was born in Georgia and lived much of her life in the Black Belt, where she helped organize the Selma-to-Montgomery March and devoted much of her time educating and registering voters. She now lives in Tuskegee.
This weekend in Atlanta, civil rights leaders from around the country will gather for a gala and a full day of discussion panels in celebration of Boynton Robinson's 100th birthday, which was on Thursday, Aug. 18.
The Root: Did you ever think we would see an African-American president in this country?
Amelia Boynton Robinson: I'll tell you like my mother told me: We are great people. We are descendants of great people who gave civilization to the world from the banks of the Nile. We gave the world science, math, astrology, astronomy.
Lift up your heads, descendants of Ham. God will once again raise us up, and all of civilization will rejoice with the descendants of Ham. So the election of President Barack Obama was not just a pop-up. It was not extemporaneous. It was God.
The Root: What do you think about how President Barack Obama is leading the country?
ABR: If they just give him the opportunity, he will lead this country as it should be. The problem is, they won't cooperate with him. We are at the pinnacle of failure in this country right now. If they don't cooperate with him, we will fail.
Here we are borrowing all of this money from people we used to laugh at — China. We've borrowed over $3 trillion. One day they're going to do like they have done on all of these houses: foreclose.
The problems still come from the racists — the Ku Klux Klan. They've whitewashed themselves. They don't call them [the Klan] anymore, but they are still there. You know the Tea [Party]. They would not be doing the things they are doing if [Obama] had not been of color. It's ridiculous. I believe they're beginning to see the light, but it's tough.
The Root: To what do you attribute your longevity?
ABR: Love. Love God. Love yourself. He gave us everything. He wants us to use everything he gave us to help others. What do we need to do to live a long time? Clean up our minds. Realize that hate destroys us. But love sustains us.
The Root: What advice do you offer today's youths?
ABR: Love yourself. You can't love other people unless you love yourself first. When you have love for yourself, you have respect. You have dignity. You know who you are, and you cultivate [what you are] to make it all it can be.
The U.S. Park Service gave me 99 roses last year. They were all different colors. I looked at them and thought, these are just like us. We are a beautiful race of people, and we come in all shades, colors and sizes.
Denise Stewart is a freelance writer in Alabama.