Stetson Law Review
In 1958, a young Howard law student named Bruce Boynton walked into a diner at a bus terminal in Richmond, Virginia, and sat down to order. Boynton's bus from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery, Alabama, was parked at the terminal for a brief break, allowing the passengers to grab food for dinner. Boynton found a stool at the diner counter a few feet from a "Whites Only" sign. He was not served. The waitress and manager told Boynton that he would not be served in the diner, pursuant to its "Whites Only" sign and service policy. Boynton refused to leave, and the manager called the police. The Richmond police arrived, collected Boynton's luggage from the bus, and placed him under arrest. The police took Boynton to the city jail, and the State charged him with trespass.
Boynton was tried on the trespass charge a few weeks later in a police court. The judge found Boynton guilty of trespass and sentenced him to a ten-dollar fine. Boynton appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which overturned his conviction in the Warren Court decision Boynton v. Virginia. In Boynton, the Court found that the bus terminal diner's segregationist policy violated the Interstate Commerce Act. Boynton's refusal to submit to the segregationist policy and the subsequent decision in Boynton both served as the impetus for the Freedom Rides.
Boynton's story of trespass enforcement and racial exclusion in commercial establishments is not limited to that era of U.S. history. In 2018, Boynton might walk into a busy coffee shop in Philadelphia. While awaiting a friend, he walks over to ask a cashier if he might use the restroom. The cashier's private biases lead her to see his presence as problematic. Without being asked to leave, and before he has the option to purchase something or go, the cashier calls the police to remove him. Boynton in 2018 is arrested, taken to jail by city police, and charged with trespass.
Boynton v. Virginia and the Anxieties of the Modern African-American Customer,
Stetson L. Rev.
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