According to RHBoyd.com, Dr. Richard Henry Boyd was a renowned clergyman who worked on providing business solutions to newly freed men and women during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Boyd believed that economic freedom was the only way for Black families to get ahead and as a result, he became an astute businessman, developing products and companies that helped to foster racial pride and combat the oppressive institutions of the time. In honor of his work, here are 6 things you should know about Richard Henry Boyd, the former slave who founded the first Black doll company:
Boyd was a clergyman who focused on training other Baptist missionaries.
Dr. Boyd was a religious organizer and devout clergyman who wanted to give a platform for Black people to be heard in the church, independent of white oppressive theology. He focused on training Black Baptist missionaries, teachers, and leaders by widely disseminating Christian education materials and supplies written by vetted Black scholars to churches across the country.
He was the founder of the National Baptist Publishing Board.
Boyd founded the National Baptist Publishing Board in 1896, now renamed the R.H. Boyd Publishing Corporation. Over the course of a decade, the company became the largest and most recognized Black publishing enterprises in the country. Through his endeavors, Boyd was able to become an affluent Black citizen and a leader in civil rights.
Boyd also owned a bank and transportation company.
While the publishing company was his first business, he launched several other businesses within years of one another. In 1904, he became a founder of the One Cent Savings and Trust Company, now called the Citizens Savings and Trust Bank in Nashville, Tennessee. Two years later, he helped found the Union Transportation Streetcar Company.
He also made history as the creator of the first Black doll company.
In 1905, Boyd launched his most interesting endeavor yet, the Negro Doll Company, making history as the creator of the first Black doll company. According to the Tennessee Historical Society, the National Negro Doll Company was another extension of Boyd’s mission to promote racial pride, this time among Black children. Little girls would often write to Santa around Christmas time asking for dolls that look like them, prompting Boyd to begin a search to create dolls that could combat the racist imagery of Black people being peddled to children in the media.
He found help in Europe where German manufacturers had begun making dolls out of unglazed porcelain, leading to the crafting of dolls with darker hues. Boyd partnered with a German doll company to design several prototypes, using photos of Black Americans as the inspiration. By 1907, Boyd began showing off the prototypes at his company headquarters, bringing in a sizable load of orders from local Nashville residents just in time for the Christmas season. By the end of the 1908/1909 Christmas season, Boyd had sold more than 3000 dolls. He eventually changed the name to the National Negro Doll Company to reflect the widespread interest, relocating manufacturing from Europe to Nashville a few short years later to keep up with production.
Before he began phasing the company out in 1915, Boyd had manufactured the 12 to 36 inch dolls, valued today between $24 to $200, to places as far as Liberia, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Alaska. While the company only lasted about a decade, Boyd’s work inspired other companies to begin producing Black baby dolls.
Boyd founded the Nashville Globe, one of the largest circulating Black newspapers in the early 1900s.
In 1906, Boyd also founded the Nashville Globe, a newspaper he launched during the time of a streetcar boycott, the Tennessee Encyclopedia reports. Boyd started his streetcar business to service the needs of Black boycotters and launched the newspaper as a way to promote the new business. Dr. Boyd funded the newspaper while his son, Henry A. Boyd, managed editorial content. The company promoted racial solidarity and self-reliance among Nashville’s Black community.
While the newspaper focused on local reporting and news coverage, their primary focus was amplifying Black businesses and opportunities for advancement, the Globe promoting a successful campaign in 1909 for the formation of what is now Tennessee State University, reminders to vote and pay your poll taxes, and the patronization of Black-owned banks and stores. In its first decade, the Nashville Globe was one of the largest circulating Black newspapers, boasting more than 20,000 readers, or about one-fifth of Nashville’s population. It ran for more than 50 years before ending publication in 1960.
The dolls were advertised in his newspaper and children were allowed to sell subscriptions to the publication in exchange for a doll.
Boyd used the newspaper to promote all of his businesses, including the doll company. For little girls whose families could not afford a doll, he offered children the option to get a free doll in exchange for selling annual subscriptions to the Globe, an offer many children gladly took up.
"…[S]end me a subscription blank…as I would like very much to accept the opportunity,” Columbia, Tennessee native Della Doyle wrote to the newspaper headquarters in October 1913.
Today, Boyd’s company continues to produce, publish and distribute Christian educational resources, materials, and church supplies. LaDonna Boyd is a fifth generation CEO who believes in continuing to lead the company based on the values established by Dr. Boyd more than a century ago.
“The importance of the Black voice and narrative is unquantifiable, as this nation was built on the strength and perseverance of our ancestors. We have to tell our stories and write our dreams. As a publishing company, we are storytellers. We have the ability to shape the minds and experiences of the masses,” a statement from LaDonna Boyd reads on the website.
We remember and honor the contributions of Dr. Richard Henry Boyd. Because of him, we can!
This article was originally published to BOTWC