Boykin, also known as Gee's Bend, is an African American majority community and census-designated place in a large bend of the Alabama River in Wilcox County, Alabama. As of the 2010 census, its population was 275. The Boykin Post Office was established in the community in 1949 and remains active, servicing the 36723 ZIP code.
Gee's Bend was named for Joseph Gee, an early large land owner fromHalifax County, North Carolina who settled here in 1816. Gee brought 18 African American slaves with him and established a cotton plantation within the bend.
Boykin is a block of land enclosed on three sides by the Alabama River, within a horseshoe shaped turn of the river named Gee's Bend. It is within the Black Belt of Alabama. The plantation started by Joseph Gee passed to his nephews Sterling and Charles Gee upon his death, along with 47 slaves. The brothers then sold it to their relative Mark H. Pettway in 1845 to settle a $29,000 debt. About a year later, the Pettway family moved from North Carolina to Gee's Bend, bringing about one hundred slaves with them. When slavery was abolished many of them continued working for the Pettways as sharecroppers. Many of the black tenants Arthur Rothsteinphotographed were named Pettway. The white Pettway family owned the property until 1895, when it was sold to Adrian Sebastian Van de Graaff. Van de Graaff, a lawyer from Tuscaloosa, then operated it as an absentee landlord.
Gee's Bend became an important part of the mid-1960s Freedom Quilting Bee, an offshoot of the Civil Rights movement designed to boost family income and foster community development by selling handcrafts to outsiders. When large numbers of residents began taking the ferry to the county seat of Camden to try to register to vote, local authorities reacted by eliminating ferry service in 1962. The lack of ferry service forced the residents of the community to drive more than an hour in order to conduct business in Camden. The people of Gee's Bend would be without a ferry service for forty-four years.
In the 1990s, Congress allocated money to pay for a ferry service and operating costs, but the project floundered when the Alabama Department of Transportation hired Hubert Bonner, a boat builder who had never built a ferry. Bonner's ferry, completed in 2004, got stuck on a sandbar and did not pass Coast Guard inspections. Alabama then hired Hornblower Marine Services, to rebuild the ferry that Bonner completed, fixing the problems to allow the ferry to pass the Coast Guard inspections. Hornblower completed retrofitting the ferry in May, 2006. The ferry service began anew on September 18, 2006, after dredging of the route was completed.