Amelia Boynton Robinson on the Funeral of Jim Clark: You Can Not Be Happy and Have Hate

Mrs. Robinson at monument dedicated to her effort in the 1965 Bloody Sunday March in Selma Alabama.

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Amelia Boynton Robinson on the Funeral of Jim Clark:
You Can Not Be Happy and Have Hate

June 25, 2007

Amelia Boynton Robinson, 96, was interviewed by Lateefa Muhammad and Leon Frasier about the June 6 death of Dallas County, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark, 84. The interview, filmed by Leon Frasier, took place en route to and returning from Clark’s funeral on June 8. Clark, who became an icon of segregationism in the 1960s, against which Boynton Robinson fought in Selma, spent his last years, mostly alone, in an Elba nursing home.

As a young woman, she came to Selma with her husband S.W. Boynton in the early 1930s, where they quickly determined to change the slavery-like conditions of the area’s rural African Americans, most of them sharecroppers. The Boyntons’ strategy was twofold: They sought to find farmland and financing for the sharecroppers — many of whom were working on the same plantations where their grandparents had been slaves; and they fought to give African Americans in Dallas County the power of the ballot. Mr. Boynton, suffering from high blood pressure and under relentless, vicious harassment and threats, died of a stroke in 1963. His last words to Amelia were, “Make sure every person in Dallas County is registered to vote.”

Amelia Boynton Robinsion, in 1965, after being beaten by Sheriff Jim Clark’s officers.
In 1964, Amelia Boynton became the first womanin Alabama ever to run for Democratic nomination for Congress, and won 11% of the vote in the primary—many times the number of registered African American voters at that time. In 1965, she was beaten and left for dead in the police riot on Edmund Pettus Bridge, in the voting rights movement’s first attempt to march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. When Clark was told to call an ambulance for her, he said, “I’m not going to call any ambulance for anybody! Let the buzzards eat ’em!”

Robinson: I’m going to the Elba, to the funeral of Jim Clark, who was the sheriff of Selma, Alabama, during a great portion of our struggle to get the right to vote.

Frasier: What motivates you to go?

Robinson: What motivates me to go to this? Well, because of the fact, if it’s possible, I’d like to prove to the people that there’s no malice that I have, though Jim Clark was almost an inhuman man, when it came down to the struggle of African Americans to set people free and make them first-class citizens.

Frasier: What prepares you not to have hatred in your heart for a person who did you as badly as Jim Clark and others under his command in Selma, in 1965?

Robinson: I think my background had a lot to do with it, my church had a lot to do with it. And that was, as the Bible says, “Everybody’s your brother. Love your brother as you do yourself. Do good unto those who do harm to you.“ And I look at Jim Clark as I do all of the other racists: Those people may not be totally responsible. Because they are weak and they live according to the way that they were trained. Many of them conceived in the bed of hated, and rocked in the cradle of discrimination. And when people come up like that, you have to blame the background as much as blaming the weakness of them. And there are so many people who are like that, particularly in the South, they are considered great leaders by the racists, and they succumb to whatever those racists want them to do, they will do it.

So, I wish I could teach and train these people. Unfortunately, I can not. But to appear at the funeral will let them know that I have no malice, no hatred whatsoever, for the way that I was treated. And that’s history. It’s water under the bridge. If you could have hatred out of that man, he would have been just as anybody else, so I can not hate him for what he has done.

To all of the Jim Clarks with that type of attitude that are living today, I tell them, that they can not be happy with hate in their minds: Because hate is evil, and evil is of the Devil. And people who are evil, I say to them, if they want to live a decent, respectable, healthy and happy life, just don’t hate. Because hate, to me, is very much like the beaver when it dams up a creek or a stream of water, or even a small river: It dams it up so that the water can not go over it. Hate dams up the conscience of the individual, to the extent that they can not think, and good can not come through them.

It makes one feel so good, when they do unto others as they would have them do unto them. It makes you feel so good, when you know that you have done no wrong to anyone in any respect. So, if anybody is out there who thinks that they can be happy and hate, they have another thing coming.

Well, what I say to God, is: “To please forgive those who have done wrong, and make them realize that there is no way for them to be happy in the hereafter, if they continue to hate, and to do such injustices to others. I ask God to forgive them for the way that they have been, and turn them around and make them love people, instead of hating them. And I believe that God listens, because as I go around, even the whole world, and I talk to particularly these young people, I have had them to come back to me, and say, “I was on the wrong track. And after having heard you speak, I have changed completely.“ And it makes me feel as though nothing, that no compensation whatsoever, in money or whatnot, that can take the place of the happiness that I get when these young people tell me, that they have changed their way of life. They have hated, they have been on drugs, they have done wrong, and now they have changed their ways, and I think that is wonderful.

And I think that’s why God has me to live so long. I often say to myself, “How is it that I’m still living?“ But the beautiful thing is, that He is not through with me yet. I still have to continue to talk to these young people and put them on the right track, and I can appreciate that, and thank God so much for doing that. Because there is no hate, there is nothing in my mind, and I try to live in such a way that they can emulate me, in order that they can have a fruitful, happy, and contented life.

You know there is something about this race that is so different from the other races. What it is that makes us like we are, I don’t know, perhaps because I don’t know the essence of God’s creation. But there is something that causes us to be much more forgiving than I believe most other races are. If there’s anything, if there were a war to be started, we don’t want it, because of the fact we’ll be taking somebody else’s life. We are a loving people. We are a forgiving people. We are a people who will try to lift up others who have fallen.

I remember part of a song that I believe it was written by Rose Sanders, and the youth group that she’s working with, the 21st Century. And it is, “Lift Him Up”: “If you don’t lift him, I may fall.“ And I think of, also, of a song that had been written, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.“ And that is the way we are. Not because we’re blood people, but we feel that we have a job to do, and that is, to lift up those who have fallen. And don’t let us believe, or see, that our brother has been taken advantage of. Because if somebody takes advantage of them, it hurts us! It hurts us to the extent that we do not like it. But, for some reason, we have gotten to the place that the system will pressure us. One example is, when I was in Selma, my people were actually afraid of us, and they were afraid because they were told, “If you work with the Boyntons, if you associate with the Boyntons, the same thing will happen to you as what happened to them.“ And what happened to us? We were ostracized, economically, we were pressured, every way they possibly could, even having shot in the house. And they feared that. So consequently, there are times that they want to speak out, against the atrocities, but they feel as though they will be targeted if that were to happen. Not because they like it, not because they’re in accord with those who mistreat us, but it is only fear.

And fear is a terrible handicap! It keeps us from mentally growing. And those who are afraid, they think that they can go even to the racists, and get favors. And of course, those people have not explored their own mentality. They have not used their power. And they perhaps were brought up to depend upon the other race. Other than that, we love our people. We do what we can, even though the system, the very government, does not justly deal with us.

What I say to my people, “Take advantage of every thing, every government program that you possibly can, to grow.“ And when we get to the place that we can measure arms with the system, financially, I think we will show how independent we can be, and speak out against that, that is wrong.

Muhammed: Now, this is Friday morning, June 8, 2007. We got news that former Sheriff Jim Clark, former Sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama is being buried this morning. And when she and I talked about it, yesterday, I asked her, if she thought it would be appropriate to go, and she said, “yes!“ she would like to go. So, I think it’s right in line with what she said regarding her being able to show people that she has no hatred for a man who showed her hatred, in going to pay her last respects to this man. And certainly I share her sentiments in that regard, and so, here we are!

[interlude, plays gospel song, “We Are Standing Before the Throne of God”]

Muhammad: Well, I certainly went because of “Queen Mother,“ here. And took, I went because I felt that it was important to support her, in making this statement to the world that I believe she has made, by attending this service. I’m truly glad that we went. We had an opportunity to meet his youngest daughter, Jan. We had an opportunity to see his family, the other members of his family there, his sister, and the other children, and some of his childhood friends, and classmates. And as Mother has said, we were truly received well.

I had expected more people to be in attendance. However, I understand now that he was something of a loner, and so, those who were in attendance probably numbered more than what was expected. So, I think overall, it was well attended by those who were perhaps closest to him. And very short, simple, service. I’m glad you asked that, because that was one of the things that struck me, when we talked with his daughter, and she said to me that, the Jim Clark in the papers—meaning what’s been written about him over time, and in the history, was not the same Jim Clark personally. And of course, I have no way of being able to judge between the two, but hearing that come from his daughter, she said, she saw a side of her dad, that most people didn’t see. And she gave this story about a woman who worked in her grandmother’s kitchen, who had become pregnant, and knew that this baby was unwanted by the owner—and I can’t help but say, “the plantation owner”—and so, the grandmother took that baby in and raised it! And this was an African American baby! And this baby was raised in the same house with Jim Clark.

I’ve never heard that part of his history before. She shared it with me today. And she talked about how much he loved this man, she said his nickname was “Pump,“ or they called him “Pump,“ and how much like family he was. And I guess that was her way of demonstrating to us, that there was no hatred, truly, in his heart for all black people. And of course, I had mentioned to her, that we were there, because of who Mother is in Jim Clark’s history. And she was struck when she saw Mother, because she remembered Mother as a child. And I’m sure was really shocked to see that Mother would come and be at her father’s funeral.

But she thanked us for coming. And I thanked her for sharing that part of her father with us, that, again, I had no knowledge of, or any awareness from anyone about.

And then, there were other comments made by childhood friends, whom we had an opportunity to speak to after the service, about Jim being such a kind man, that he would never use profane language.

Frasier: But she did come back to admit that he had done some wrong, that they were aware of.

Muhammad: Well, she did. And as a matter of fact, she mentioned, regarding one of the children disfavoring their father, because of that terrible part of the history that he had. And so, it wasn’t like it went unnoticed by them, that he was the person that he was in terms of that office as Sheriff of Dallas County. But, I suppose what they were trying to do, is show us that he was that, and he was other than that.

So, and I guess, when you look at a person in his totality or her totality, you will come to see that there are sides to people that are shown publicly, and then privately. And so, they wanted us to see the private side of him, in that regard, to show that he did have some respect of himself and of others. And that, I thought was enlightening.

Frasier: Do you have any regrets about going?

Robinson: I have no regrets whatsoever! In fact, I am very happy that I went. Not that I had any animosity that I wanted to get rid of. But I felt curiosity, first, made me feel that I needed to go down there and see, perhaps, what type of community or section in which he lived, and whether it had anything to do with his attitude toward people of color, and how he controlled the people in Dallas County and Selma, Alabama.

So, that’s the reason why I felt that it was a blessing that I went down there. And I was not disappointed, because, all of the whom I met, seemed to have been very outspoken as to Jim Clark, cops, and they were the people who didn’t mind talking, the friends, and whatnot. And some of them, they showed the other side, which his youngest daughter did. But all in all, you could tell by the attitudes of the other people toward the cops, that it was somewhat cold; there was seemingly no love.

And having seen the obituary—it was not an obituary. The system that they used, because he didn’t go to the church, they had the body in the funeral home, and the minister is also one of the directors of the funeral home, and he did the eulogy. And to see the family, you could see that there was no grief. I noticed them very closely, his three daughters and two sons—there were five of them altogether, five children that he had.

And he was in Elba, in the nursing home, and not one of the children lived in Elba, so he had to be a loner. And according to conversations with some of the people, they would go to the nursing home, just in order that he would not be so lonely, and talk with him—he was there for a number of years—and took him out.

But what I thought about is, there are so many people who have done so much wrong. But when they see that their days are short, they begin to get closer to God, and they regret the things that they have done against human beings. But unfortunately, last year, when a fellow went to the nursing home and talked with Jim Clark, he said, “I don’t regret anything that I have done in Dallas County and Selma”—and that is, during 1965, when he was controlling the whole county, having people beaten, beating people out, putting them in jail and all of the terrible things that he had done—and he said, “I have no regrets whatsoever. If I were there now, I would do the same thing.”

Well, in a case like that, he had no regrets, as he said, himself, which meant that there was no repentance. And when you look at the way the funeral was, you could see that the family was not close, the people were not close. It was just a matter of paying respect.

And I’m glad that I went: Because I let the world know, that I have no animosity whatsoever. And I forgive him for all of the things that he did against me, personally, my family, personally, and the citizens of Selma and Dallas County.

[Video ends with gospel song, “We Are Standing Before the Throne of God”]

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