Richard Henry Boyd, Baptist leader, publisher, and entrepreneur, was born into slavery as Dick Gray on March 5, 1843, at the B. A. Gray plantation in Noxubee County, Mississippi. His mother, Indiana Dixon, had six other boys and three girls. In 1849 Gray began a plantation near Brenham in Washington County, Texas. Boyd worked there until the outbreak of the Civil War and then accompanied Gray as a servant in one of the Confederate armies fighting around Chattanooga, Tennessee. After Gray and his two eldest sons were killed near Chattanooga, Boyd carried the youngest son, who was badly wounded, back to the Texas plantation. Boyd took charge of the plantation and became an efficient manager in the production and sale of cotton. He traded cotton successfully in Mexico. After emancipation (see JUNETEENTH) he continued to trade cotton, then began work as a cowboy. He later worked as a laborer at a sawmill in Montgomery County. In 1867 he changed his name from Dick Gray to Richard Henry Boyd.
He began to educate himself after emancipation with Webster's Blue-Backed Speller, McGuffey's First Reader, and the assistance of White friends. In 1869 he entered Bishop College at Marshall, married Hattie Moore, and in the latter part of the year was ordained a Baptist minister. He did not remain at Bishop College long enough to complete his degree. In 1870 he organized six churches into the first Black Baptist association in Texas. In 1876 Black Texas Baptists selected Boyd as their representative to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He also served as secretary of the Missionary Baptist General Convention in Texas and as its superintendent of missions in Texas. While serving in these positions he promoted the idea of publishing literature for Black Baptist Sunday schools. He brought out his first pamphlets in 1894 and 1895. During Boyd's residence in Texas he established churches at Waverly, Old Danville, Navasota, Crockett, Palestine, and San Antonio.
In 1896 participants at the National Baptist Convention in St. Louis elected Boyd secretary of home missions in the United States. In this position he fostered the development of four Panamanian churches during the construction of the Panama Canal. He served as secretary of home missions until 1914. In 1905 he served as a delegate to the World Baptist Alliance meeting at London. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1896 and founded the National Baptist Publishing Board in January 1897. The board issued the first series of Baptist literature for Blacks ever published. Boyd and his followers received the assistance of influential White friends to finance the venture. The National Baptist Publishing Board soon developed into the main source of religious literature for Black Baptists throughout the world. In its first eighteen years, the publishing board issued more than 128 million periodicals. Its physical plant was valued at over $350,000 in 1912.
Boyd was also an organizer of the Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Company of Nashville and served as its first president, from 1904 until 1922. In 1906 he became the first president of the Nashville Globe Publishing Company and financed the publication of the Nashville Globe. He also founded the National Baptist Church Supply Company and the Negro Doll Company, which were housed at the plant of the National Baptist Publishing Board. The National Baptist Church Supply Company manufactured and sold church furniture. The Negro Doll Company began distributing Black dolls in 1911. The National Negro Business League listed Boyd as a member for life.
In 1915 the National Baptist Convention split over the question of whether to incorporate. E. C. Morris led the move for incorporation, while Boyd opposed it. Boyd feared that incorporation would alter the voluntary nature of Baptist organizations and give the convention legal control over all entities identified with it, including his own enterprises. Morris's faction formed an incorporated convention, while Boyd's followers formed an unincorporated convention and retained control of the National Baptist Publishing Board. The incorporated convention filed an unsuccessful suit to take control of the publishing board.
Boyd wrote or edited fourteen books, including Baptist Catechism and Doctrine (1899), National Baptist Pastor's Guide (1900), National Jubilee Melody Songbook (n.d.), and, at the request of the National Baptist Convention, The Separate or "Jim Crow" Car Laws, or Legislative Enactments of Fourteen Southern States (1909). Boyd's compilation of Jim Crow legislation included an introduction that urged Blacks to make legal protests wherever separate accommodations were not equal as provided by law.
Richard and Hattie Moore Boyd had nine children. Their most prominent child was Henry Allen Boyd, who managed almost all of his father's ventures and was an influential teacher, civic leader, and businessman in Tennessee. Boyd suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on August 19, 1922, and died at his Nashville home on August 23. Masonic rites were held for him on August 26. On August 27, 1922, 6,000 people attended a public service for him in the Ryman Auditorium at Nashville. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.