Boyd Publishing and the Legacy of MLK

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One of Nashville’s oldest publishing companies also played a supporting role in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday will be celebrated Monday.

The Sunday school materials flying off the printers at R.H. Boyd Publishing Corporation focus on the New Testament story of Jesus. But Martin Luther King Jr. remains a prominent figure in the curriculum too.

“Jesus is something that will always be with us,” says fourth generation CEO T.B. Boyd III. “Martin Luther King, he was mortal man, but the difference is, you can remember him as a living, an actual living person.”

T.B. Boyd III in the R.H. Boyd Publishing Corporation's bindery, off Nashville's Centennial Blvd.

T.B. Boyd III in the R.H. Boyd Publishing Corporation’s bindery, off Nashville’s Centennial Blvd.

Boyd says King’s writings and ideas help reach his audience of primarily black Christian churches. There was a time, however, when what was printed by this company was the very work of Dr. King.

“He had written several books,” Boyd says. “And we distributed the books through the publishing company here for many years. There were also some LP records that were made of Martin Luther King and his various sermons. We distributed those also.”

King’s Sermons Still Available

King’s most famous sermons and speeches are still distributed by Boyd Publishing, now on CD instead of long-playing record.

Boyd says King-related products remain some of the company’s best sellers, especially this time of year. But during the Civil Rights era, they weren’t a money maker.

“A lot of times it wasn’t for charge,” he says. “It was free just so people could have the knowledge of what this man was doing.”

Boyd’s father, T.B. Boyd, Jr., was moved by King’s teaching. And as a prominent and successful businessman, Boyd had a lot to lose, says historian Reavis Mitchell of Fisk University.

“Today we sort of think that everyone always wanted to get together and applaud King,” Mitchell says. “But there were many whites in America who were very comfortable with a segregated society, with a two society. And there were some few black leaders, black people, Negros, African Americans, who were so brainwashed, that they accepted a second class position.”

Behind the Scenes

As a publisher that catered to black churches, a more open society wasn’t necessarily good for business. But Boyd believed King was right. And the publisher spoke with his money.

Mitchell says Boyd contributed to King’s organization, as well as lending the services of his publishing house. He did not, however, jump into civil disobedience.

“My father, he was weak on the non-violent side,” says the younger Boyd. “So he wouldn’t get out there at the lunch counters and have people to spit on him and this type of thing. He couldn’t take that. He told me not to do it if I couldn’t take it.”

In pushing for racial equality, Boyd Publishing worked behind the scenes. And in many ways, it still does, promoting and publishing work from today’s African American church leaders.

Web Extra

T.B. Boyd III explains how R.H. Boyd, a freed slave, began the company in 1896.

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