Remembering Henrietta Boggs

Born during the 1918 flu pandemic, Henrietta Boggs died in her longtime home of Montgomery, Alabama earlier this month from COVID-19 at the age of 102.

Boggs was best known for having been married to Costa Rican president and civil rights leader Jose Figueres Ferrer in the 1940s, but Boggs was a powerful activist in her own right, convincing her husband to grant women and Afro-Costa Rican citizens the right to vote.

She abandoned her life in Alabama for Latin America while in college, much to the dismay of her white, conservative, Protestant parents, who disapproved of her marrying outside her own race. But Boggs was always critical of the Southern culture of her youth: “The Southern way of life was something sacred. Do not question. Do not doubt. Close your mind and believe what you’re supposed to believe,” she later disdainfully recalled.

Boggs divorced Ferrer in 1954 and, two years later, came back to Alabama to volunteer to drive Black protesters to their jobs during the Montgomery bus boycott sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks. From there, she moved to New York to work with the United Nations on Costa Rican affairs, but permanently returned to Alabama in 1969, where she focused on writing and activism.

Later in life, Boggs rented her guesthouse in an all-white neighborhood to a Black attorney, Bryan Stevenson, while he was in the process of starting the advocacy group Equal Justice Initiative. In 1996, well into her seventies, she co-founded the regional lifestyle magazine Montgomery Living, which exists today as ALMetro360.

Henrietta Boggs deliberately chose to surrender a life of privilege in order to work as an activist for women and people of color, and continued to speak out even as she passed the age of 100.

Her legacy serves as a case study in the power of the New South.

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