All Bruce Boynton wanted was a cheeseburger.
When I want a cheeseburger, it's easy enough. I go to my local McDonald's, or Burger King, or Wendy's, step up to the counter, and say, "I'd like a cheeseburger with fries and a Coke."
If I want a fancier cheeseburger, I'll probably go to Applebee's or Chili's.
If I want to put forth the effort, I'll make one at home.
But Bruce Boynton wanted a cheeseburger . . . in 1958 . . . in a bus station in Richmond, Virginia . . . and he was African-American. And although federal law banned segregation in interstate travel, the bus station was segregated by color.
So when Bruce Boynton, hungry and weary from bus travel, got off the bus, all he wanted was something to eat.
But when he went to the part of the restaurant that was meant for blacks, he saw an eating area that, in his words, was "very unsanitary".
So he walked over to the white section, which he described as "clinically clean", and told the waitress, "I'll have a cheeseburger and tea."
The waitress left and came back with the manager.
His order for this hungry man, who just wanted a cheeseburger?
"Move!" accompanied by a racial slur.
Bruce Boynton was hungry. He wanted a cheeseburger. He did not want to eat it in a dirty restaurant.
So, following the example of Rosa Parks, he said, "No." He pointed out that he was an American citizen with federal rights and thus was entitled to his cheeseburger and tea. As a law student at Howard University, Boynton knew his rights and knew the law.
It didn't matter. Boynton was arrested and convicted on a charge of trespassing.
He appealed his case all the way up to the Supreme Court, with future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall as his counsel. In 1960, the SCOTUS, in Boynton v. Virginia, sided with Boynton, ruling that "when a bus carrier has volunteered to make terminal and restaurant facilities and services available to its interstate passengers as a regular part of their transportation, and the terminal and restaurant have
acquiesced and cooperated in this undertaking, the terminal and restaurant must perform these services without discriminations prohibited by the Act."
Unfortunately, the Interstate Commerce Commission didn't enforce the SCOTUS ruling. Jim Crow in the South continued.
So in 1961, groups of people climbed aboard interstate buses, the Greyhounds and the Trailways, and rode straight into the arms of white mobs waiting for them in places like Anniston, Alabama and Birmingham, Alabama.
For exercising a right guaranteed to them by the Supreme Court of the United States, they were attacked and beaten severely. It took their blood on the floor -- the blood of John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, Stokely Carmichael (also known as Kwame Ture) and others -- on the floor of a bus station to finally get the right to ride a bus, a right that whites took for granted.
In 1961, the "whites only" and "coloreds only" signs came down in the waiting rooms of interstate bus lines.
Bruce Boynton died on Monday at the age of 83, in Selma, Alabama, his hometown. He put his legal education and experience to work as a civil rights attorney after initially being unable to get a law license in Alabama.
I only learned of Bruce Boynton, and his story, this morning, while scrolling through the pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the man who, just because he wanted a cheeseburger, ended up inspiring the movement that ended segregation in interstate travel and helped pave the way for the civil rights acts now enshrined in federal law.
As US District Judge Myron Thompson said in Boynton's obituary, "All he wanted was a cheeseburger, and he changed the course of history."
I will never look at cheeseburgers the same way again.
So, next time I go to a restaurant and say, "One cheeseburger, please," I hope to remember Bruce Boynton, a time when his order for a cheeseburger was met with "Move!", and toast his courage with a ground beef patty with cheese on top, tucked securely into a bun.
Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.