Boynton described his arrest in a 2018 interview with The Associated Press.
Boynton was attending law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., when he boarded a bus bound for Alabama in 1958. Public facilities including bus stations were separated by race across the South at the time, despite federal laws banning segregation in interstate travel.
The bus pulled into a station in Richmond, Virginia, for a break, and Boynton went inside to eat. Seeing that the part of the restaurant meant for Blacks had water on the floor and looked “very unsanitary,” Boynton said he sat down in the “clinically clean” white area. He told the waitress he would have a cheeseburger and tea.
“She left and came back with the manager. The manager poked his finger in my face and said ... move,’” using a racial slur, Boynton recalled in the interview. “And I knew that I would not move, and I refused to, and that was the case.”
Convicted of trespassing, Boynton appealed, and his case wound up before the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall, then the nation’s leading civil rights attorney who later went on to become the first Black Supreme Court justice, was his counsel.
Boynton contested his conviction, and the Supreme Court ruled in 1960 that federal discrimination prohibitions barring segregation on interstate buses also applied to bus stations and other facilities linked to interstate travel. The next year, dozens of Black and white students set out on buses to travel the South and test whether the ruling in the case, Bruce Boynton v. Virginia, was being followed.
The Freedom Riders were arrested or attacked in Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina, and a bus was burned. Then-President John F. Kennedy ordered stricter enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws.
“He was a pioneer,” said Sanders. “All of the Freedom Rides sprung from this particular action.”
Sanders said Boynton paid a price for what he did and initially wasn’t able to get a law license in Alabama. He spent most of his career as a civil rights attorney before retirement.
Thompson said in 2018 that Boynton’s life “is a teaching lesson for all of us about how we can make a difference.”
“All he wanted was a cheeseburger, and he changed the course of history.”