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109-year-old civil rights pioneer shares amazing story of activism

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WASHINGTON HEIGHTS, Manhattan — A civil rights pioneer, now 109-years-old, according to family members, made a rare appearance in New York Sunday, sharing her amazing story of activism that almost cost her life.

Amelia Boynton Robinson, known as the matriarch of the voting rights movement, was beaten, tear gassed and left for dead during the so-called Bloody Sunday march on March 7, 1965. The march from Selma to Montgomery was cut short by the violent crackdown on demonstrators by law enforcement.

She told the congregation at United Palace House of Inspiration in Washington Heights how she was beaten unconscious by police on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

“He took his nightstick, hit me below my shoulders, and I just looked at him wondering why he did it, and said to him ‘I haven’t done anything.’ And he said ‘I said run,’ and he hit me above the neck,” Boynton Robinson said. “I was more determined than ever that I was going to fight until African Americans, white, black, brown, anything, would become registered voters.”

“Whatever the situation was, her strength and her faith that her parents taught her, kept her going so far. She even went to the funeral of the man that beat her, pushed her down, and forgave him,” said congregant Mitzi Nelson.

Boynton Robinson, who lives in Tuskegee, Ala., was showered with flowers and proclamations, including one from Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Actress Lorraine Toussaint played Boynton Robinson in the movie "Selma." She didn’t elaborate, but told PIX11 News she was not happy with the portrayal.

“I didn’t like it,” she said. “It didn’t tell the truth.”

The truth she said is spelled out in her autobiography Bridge "Across Jordan."

As for the state of race relations today, she said:

“We are getting worse. You’ve got justified homicide, Ku Klux Klansmen. You have people who don’t care. You have people who are haters. No, we have not touched the surface.”

Boynton Robinson has another birthday coming up on Aug. 18.

“I don’t celebrate,” she said. “They celebrate me.”