For a southern black youth growing up in the 1950s, Dr. TB Boyd III had an uncommon childhood.
In addition to the family’s interests in the National Baptist Publishing Board, his family owned and operated Citizens Savings and Trust Bank, which was also founded by Richard Henry Boyd at the turn of the century. These family enterprises gave young Boyd a sense of identity.
“I always had a feeling of great pride because I could walk into the bank with the president of the bank, even though I was a little boy,” he said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB). Though still a child, he understood the importance of the family’s involvement in business. “I felt it was significant,” he explained. “When I was a small kid, I knew I was different, but I didn’t know exactly why. I think it was because the other black kids I knew didn’t have [a family history] like that.”
Boyd grew to understand that this feeling of identity was vital to his sense of self-worth. He also came to realize that feelings of identity and self-esteem are the key factors of success that are missing in the lives of many young African Americans.
He once said: “A feeling of disassociation, a feeling of lack of initiative to go forth, comes to black kids because they don’t feel they can identify [with anything but] the negative types of influences.”
As a young adult in Nashville during the burgeoning civil rights era, Boyd became involved in the marches, demonstrations, and sit-ins that led to the desegregation of the South. His activities left an indelible mark on him.
“I never understood why we always had to demonstrate to go in to give people our business,” he he once said. “It was amazing to me as an entrepreneur that [black customers] would have to march in front of the door to come in [to give merchants their money].”
He found it hard to believe that a person’s skin color could have such strong social, political, and economic ramifications.
Boyd’s great-uncle Henry, son of the founder of the family company, was once the victim of racially motivated discrimination at a train station. He and his traveling companions were told to sit in the back of the train. He refused—and then bought the railroad car so that they could sit where they wanted. T. B. Boyd III also suffered his own brushes with racist practices: “I never understood the people who did not want me to sit beside them in a restaurant,” he mused during an interview. “I mean, they did not have my financial resources, they did not have my education—they were just trying to be mean, and that never made sense to me.”
From these and other experiences came Boyd’s philosophy that “ignorance has no boundaries, so you just have to try to put a little more consciousness in people when you can.”In the mid-1970s, T. B. Boyd III went to work for the family firm, something he had always wanted to do. “It was just fascinating to me—I’ve always had an interest in it. I really never thought twice about not doing it, but to [my parents’] credit, they never pressured me into doing it.”
The National Baptist Publishing Board produces books and materials for churches, church schools, and Sunday schools, and one of Boyd’s first projects was to create a new hymnal to be published by the board. He immediately proved his business acumen by creating the New National Baptist Hymnal, the most successful hymnal ever.
Boyd’s method was simple: he asked his customers what they wanted and then gave it to them. He spent two years distributing questionnaires that asked customers what they would like to see in a new hymn book; the company gathered information on everything from choice of hymns to be included, to size and even color of the book. The first print run sold more quickly than anyone could have imagined, and it has gone through almost 40 printings since. By the early 1990s, more than 5 million copies were in print.
After becoming president and chief executive officer of the publishing board in 1979, Boyd continued to improve his products based on customers’ needs.
He once said: “The company has grown close to 500 percent since I have taken over. I took the same process we used for the hymn books—questionnaires—and applied it to our other publications. We asked, What size print do you want? Do you like the color of the covers? Is the material being written on the reading level it is prescribed for?
Is it understandable? Over the years, the business has really grown. People love the material, and we think it is second to none.”
Commenting on the broader aspect of the company’s work, Boyd noted, “We invest in our constituency not only by providing them with a product at a very competitive cost, but also through such services as seminars and workshops throughout the year.”
The National Baptist Publishing Board also sponsors the annual convention of the National Baptist Sunday Church School and Baptist Training Union Congress. For one week each summer, the Congress convenes in a host city and holds classes and seminars for delegates from churches all over the country, discussing such topics as minority unemployment, housing problems, the effects of famine and drought on foreign missions, and the need to strengthen the black family in the United States. At these sessions, the publishing board tries to determine and service its community’s needs.
“At the one big annual session, the annual Congress, we provide a forum,” Boyd explained . “We invite our member churches and churches from other organizations, churches from other conventions, to send representatives to our seminars to listen to the words of national speakers.” This educational service is vital to Boyd’s mission.
Boyd had a very specific mission to accomplish—and he used the National Baptist Publishing Board as the means. A major problem for African Americans, says Boyd, is a deficiency in self-esteem, which is caused by both a lack of historical identity and a weakening of the family structure.
According to Boyd, African Americans feel disconnected from the society in which they live. This is the result of the devastating practice of slave trade that flourished in the United States throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; slave importation tore Africans from their homeland, destroyed families, and left an entire people in a new world without history and or role models.
“That’s why it’s so important for African American kids to take pride and relearn what their home place is all about. They need to take courses in school that emphasize African history and [Africa’s] place in world history.” In their choice of materials and authors, the National Baptist Publishing Board addresses these concerns.
For the past several years, the Congress has focused primarily on the family unit. In today’s society, Boyd argues, “the family structure is not as strong as it use to be, which gives rise to the tremendous crime statistics.” Within a strong family unit, children learn moral values and self-worth.
“We feel the family is the answer to many of the problems that we have today. We need to get the tight family unit back again, with parents becoming more responsible for the kids. They have to instill greater discipline in the home—greater awareness of self-respect in the house—so kids have respect for others outside the house.”
The solution is education and awareness, a product that the National Baptist Publishing Board and the National Congress supply.
The publishing board and the National Congress also increase awareness of their ideas through example. Activities from team discussions and parades to essay contests and scholarship competitions help “set an example for other kids, [to show] those kids they don’t have to be out standing around the block, killing time and each other,” Boyd told CBB.
Although his business activities consume much of Boyd’s time and energy, he made it a point of actively participating in the lives and education of his children. He volunteers at his children’s schools several times a month and keeps tabs on their homework assignments.
“Parents need to get out of the house, they need to participate in PTA meetings and the various activities that their kids are in,” he stressed in an interview. “Often you can tell which kids have parents who have taken an interest in their education: these kids watch their grades because they want their parents to be proud of them. The parents play a tremendous part in the success of their kids, more than any other single factor that’s going to have a bearing on that child.”
Boyd’s long-term goal was to increase economic power among African Americans. “In this society, one of the greatest factors of quality of life is economic power—the power to create jobs by building your own company, or being in a position in a major company that allows you to dictate policies that have a direct influence on jobs, job security, and promotions. We have to create our own successful companies. Until we create the jobs, until we create the product and aren’t just the end-users, our employment opportunities will always be at the mercy of a personnel office with certain quotas to meet.” Boyd encouraged the pursuit of entrepreneurship among African American students in grade school and high school, and insisted that high expectations must be accompanied by the nurturing of a positive self-image. He once said , “I am of the firm opinion that you have to have a positive self-opinion before you can do any of these things.”
TB Boyd began his career at the National Baptist Publishing Board, Nashville, TN, as personnel director, beginning 1969, head of design and building committee, 1974, member of the board of directors, 1976, president and chief executive officer, 1979 ; Citizens Savings and Trust, member of the board of directors, beginning 1978, chairman of the board, 1982 . Middle Tennessee chairman for the United Negro College Fund Telethon, 1989 and 1990; president, 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee. Member of the board of First Union Bank, March of Dimes, National Council of Christians and Jews, and the Hundred Club of Nashville; Tennessee Human Rights commissioner; vice-chairman, Meharry Medical College Board of Trustees.
He was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.; Chi Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.
He had a D.D. from Shreveport Bible College, 1980; Doctor of Letters from Easonian Baptist Seminary ; Great Seal of the United States Award; March of Dimes Man of the Year Award, 1990.
Born Theophilus Bartholomew Boyd III, May 15, 1947, in Nashville, TN; son of T. B. Boyd, Jr. (former leader of the National Baptist Congress); married Yvette Jean Duke; children: T. B. Boyd IV, LaDonna Yvette, Shalae Shantel, Justin Marriel. Education: Tennessee State University, B.S., 1969.