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How a publishing company started by a former slave has lasted for 120 years

While Twitter and Facebook occupy time that many consumers could spend reading books, R.H. Boyd Publishing Corporation CEO LaDonna Boyd does not view social media as a threat to her business. She’s the fifth generation CEO of a publishing company started over 120 years ago by her great-great-grandfather, the Rev. Dr. Richard Henry Boyd, in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Twitter is definitely not my competitor at all. I think that there’s so many different ways to share a story. There’s a medium that suits everyone whether you want 140 characters on Twitter, or if you wanna write the next long novel,” Boyd told Yahoo Finance.

R.H. Boyd Publishing prints, publishes, and distributes Christian materials to over 10,000 churches, organizations, and individuals across the country. The company has over 40 full-time employees and numerous offsite editors, proofreaders, and writers. Boyd credits the company’s longevity to its ability to master its expertise and meet the faith-based needs of its consumers.

“For us we’ve had to ebb and flow if you will, with the industry and the market but we’re doing well,” she said. “We’re very strong and I think it’s because we have a passion and we’re experts in our field so that helps us kind of stand apart from many others. But we’re all feeling it of course. You just have to be able to transition and to shift and pivot. So having digital resources and just engaging with your consumers in a different way.”

Rev. Dr. Richard Henry Boyd Credit: R.H. Boyd Publishing Co.

Born a slave, Boyd’s great-great-grandfather couldn’t read and write until he was 22 years old. “He was born in 1843 in Mississippi so just imagine that existence. That harsh upbringing and just that tumultuous time in our history,” Boyd said. After he was eventually freed, he became a pastor. 

Boyd said that, in overcoming the injustices of being a slave, her great-great-grandfather empowered the next generation of African Americans to own their own narrative through Christian education. “He wanted to kind of go against the system if you will and give his people an opportunity to have their own voices and tell their own stories and have their own narrative and something so special and intimate as their faith walk,” she said.

The accomplishment of the Rev. Dr. R.H. Boyd reverberates today nearly 100 years after his death. When he founded the National Baptist Publishing Board, now R.H. Boyd Publishing, in 1896, he started out by working with a small group of churches using money he and his wife had saved. 

When he died in 1922, he had become a noted entrepreneur. He co-founded One Cent Savings Bank, now Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Co., in 1904. It was the first minority owned bank in Tennessee. Ten cents was the minimum deposit required to open an account back then. Boyd was president of the bank from 1904 to 1922. Boyd also founded the Nashville Globe Publishing Company in 1905 and the Negro Doll Company in 1911.

Credit: R.H. Boyd Publishing Co.

One executive recently commented on the unusual longevity of the Boyd family business. “Businesses just don’t last through the fifth generation. It’s an extreme exception. I would tell you less than 5% out of all family businesses make it past the third generation, let alone the fifth,” Jeffrey Weiner, CEO of independent accounting firm Marcum LLP, recently commented to Yahoo Finance during a discussion about R.H.Boyd Publishing. 

He added, “So the Boyds are doing something right.” 

The Boyd family’s mission extends beyond publishing Christian materials to offering financial literacy and economic empowerment, including by offering scholarships to historically black colleges and universities. “We want to make sure that we give back all of the resources and that we can equip people to be strong leaders and have their own entity that lasts for at least 5 or more generations,” Boyd said.

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