R. H. Boyd

Richard Henry Boyd (March 15, 1843 – August 22, 1922) was an African-American minister and businessman who was the founder and head of the National Baptist Publishing Board and a founder of the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.

Early life

Rev. Dr. R. H. Boyd and family

Boyd was born into slavery at the B. A. Gray plantation in Noxubee County, Mississippi, on March 15, 1843. He was one of ten children of his mother, Indiana Dixon. He was originally named Dick Gray, having been given the surname of his slave master. As a child, he moved twice with his master’s household, to Lowndes County, Mississippi in 1848, and to Claiborne Parish, Louisiana in 1853.

In 1859 he was sold to Benoni W. Gray, who took him to a cotton plantation near Brenham in Washington County, Texas. During the American Civil War, he served Gray as a bodyservant in the Confederate Army. After Gray and his two eldest sons were killed and a third son was badly wounded in fighting near Chattanooga, Tennessee, Boyd returned to Texas with the surviving son. In Texas, he took over management of the Gray plantation, successfully producing and selling cotton. Following emancipation, he also worked as a cowboy and in a sawmill. In 1867, he changed his name to Richard Henry Boyd; Richard (“Dick”) had been his grandfather’s first name, but there is no record of the reasons for his choice of his new middle name and surname.

After emancipation, Boyd, who did not learn the alphabet until age 22, began a process of self-education. He used Webster’s Blue-Backed Speller and McGuffey’s First Reader as texts and hired a white girl to teach him. In about 1869 or 1870 he enrolled in Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, an American Baptist Home Mission Society school for the education of freed slaves. He attended Bishop for two years, but did not graduate. Later in life he received honorary doctoral degrees from Guadalupe College and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical State College.

In 1868, Boyd married Laura Thomas, who died less than a year later. In 1871 he married Harriett Albertine Moore.

Religious career

In 1869 Boyd was baptized in Hopewell Baptist Church in Navasota, Texas. Shortly thereafter, he felt called to the ministry and was ordained as a minister in 1871. Subsequently, he served as a pastor to several Texas churches, including the Nineveh Baptist Church in Grimes City, the Union Baptist Church in Palestine, and the Mount Zion Baptist Church in San Antonio, and helped to organize other churches in Palestine (including South Union Missionary Baptist Church), Waverly, Old Danville, Navasota, and Crockett. In 1870 he helped organize the first black Baptist association in Texas, the Texas Negro Baptist Convention, and served as its missionary and educational secretary from 1870 to 1874. In 1876 he represented black Texas Baptists at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

While in Texas, Boyd became concerned that the Sunday school materials and other publications of the Southern Baptist Convention and American Baptist Publication Society, which were produced by white people, did not meet the needs of African American Baptists. He became interested in publishing black-authored materials for use in churches and Sunday schools. Because this view was not shared by all members of the Texas Negro Baptist Convention, in 1893 Boyd left that association to form the General Missionary Baptist Convention of Texas. In 1894 and 1895 he produced his first pamphlets for use in black Baptist Sunday schools. At the 1895 annual meeting of National Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, he pressed for the creation of a publishing board for the black Baptists and received the support of Elias C. Morris, president of the National Baptist Convention. In 1896 he resigned from his church positions in Texas and moved to Nashville to establish the National Baptist Publishing Board, arriving there on November 7, 1896.

Civil rights activities

Boyd was a public advocate for African American civil rights. As early as the 1890s he voiced his concern that whites planned to reverse the civil rights gains that African Americans had made in the years after the Civil War, and in subsequent years he worked against the Jim Crow laws enacted to enforce segregation.

Death and legacy

Boyd died in Nashville of a cerebral hemorrhage on August 22, 1922. His funeral was held in Ryman Auditorium and was attended by several thousand people. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville.

R. H. and Harriett Boyd were the parents of nine children, of whom six survived to adulthood. A son, Henry Allen Boyd, was a leader in the Nashville African-American community and a cofounder of the Nashville Globe newspaper, and succeeded his father as head of the National Baptist Publishing Board.

The National Baptist Publishing Board was renamed the R. H. Boyd Publishing Corporation in his honor in 2000. The corporation and the R. H. Boyd Family Endowment Fund offer fellowships in his name for African-Americans engaged in graduate study.

In April 2009 he was posthumously inducted into the Music City Walk of Fame in Nashville in honor of his contributions to preserving the music of former slaves and their descendants.