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Interview with Harvey Boyd

Boyd, Harvey
Pettus, Debra
Date of Interview: 
Boyd, Harvey; Graham, Katharine, 1917-2001; Jones, Lois Mailou; Washington Post Company; The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.); Kellogg Company; West Charlotte High School (Charlotte, N.C.); Central Piedmont Community College (Charlotte, N.C.); Howard University; African Americans--Segregation; Commercial art; Social integration; Advertising--Newspapers; African Americans--Employment; African American artists as teachers; North Carolina--Charlotte; Washington (D.C.); Michigan--Detroit; Illinois--Chicago; North Carolina--Matthews; North Carolina--Matthews--Crestdale; Interviews (Sound recordings); Oral histories
Harvey Boyd reflects on his extraordinary life achievements, despite his limited opportunities as an African American man growing up in the segregated South. He begins by describing his childhood home, which is still his current residence, in the community of Crestdale in Matthews. Boyd emphasizes his passion for art, but also the resistance he met within his family and the wider community towards his dream of becoming an artist. Boyd reflects on the perception at the time that a career in art was not an option for an African American. To pursue his passion and in defiance of these barriers Boyd decided to transfer to West Charlotte High School in order to take art classes. Following high school he attended CPCC (Central Piedmont Community College), acquiring an Associate’s degree in graphic design. Boyd recounts his experiences working for the Charlotte Observer in advertising, particularly in regard to his growing awareness of segregation. Moving north, Boyd continued his art education at Howard University in Washington, DC where he also worked for the Washington Post. He describes the differences he experienced in a non-segregated city and the impact this had on his life and work. While at Howard Boyd was heavily influenced by his art professor, Lois Mailou Jones, whose example confirmed for him that a career as an artist was indeed possible for an African American. Boyd goes on to describe his career in advertising and his mission to integrate the advertising world by including African Americans in advertisements for companies such as Kellogg.
North Carolina--Matthews--Crestdale; circa 1940 -2005
Interview Setting: 
Harvey's home in North Carolina--Matthews
Oral History, African American Community
Interview Audio: 

[DP]:[Debra Pettus]
[HB]:[Harvey Boyd]

DP: Hello, My name is Debra Pettus and today is Saturday April 17, 2004, I'm a student at UNC Charlotte, and I'm currently involved in an Oral History class gathering oral histories of African Americans in the Charlotte area. Today I have the pleasure and the honor of interviewing Harvey Boyd of Crestdale Rd. in Matthews, NC. Before we get started, I would like to have Harvey tell us a little bit about what he is currently involved with because I think it's very important to know about what you're doing with your--trying to make sure that this Crestdale community, the development and all goes well for the people that live here. So do you mind giving us a little background on that Harvey?
HB: Currently I'm involved with Crestdale in trying to help revitalize the Crestdale area. Crestdale is like the unique community in the United States, it’s one of the oldest African American communities in the United States, it was founded right after the Civil War. We have attempts to redevelop the way--and to revitalize the community. We're currently at 135 acres of land in the center of Matthews you might say, and at one point it was primarily African American owned land. Somehow the persons in the community were able to hold onto this land. It is now being developed by not only African Americans, but Europeans, Asians, and others. And we're trying to put together a plan that will allow it to be one of the jewels in Matthews for low to moderate income people as well as to have different socio-economic groups in the community, as we once lived in communities before the civil rights era, where the communities were populated not only by doctors, lawyers, and teachers, but everybody that would live in those particular communities. Crestdale is -- at one time was called "Tank Town." The reason it was called "Tank Town" is that the train, the "choo-choo" trains, as they say, would stop here to get water to be placed into their engines so that they could generate steam to go from here to Hamlet, NC. And so it was referred to until the early '60s as "Tank Town." Crestdale, I'm not really sure where that name comes from, but either way it is now a very good part of Matthews' history because Matthews decided to--and the board of education decided to name an elementary school after Crestdale. And Crestdale is, as I said, in the center of Matthews. It is one of the--it is also distinguished by having had the Dr. Selma Burke visit because she had relatives here and Dr. Burke is one of the ones who designed the dime that you're carrying in your pocket.
DP: Oh, I didn't know that.
HB: And she--we developed Habitat Community in the Crestdale area. We decided to name a street after Dr. Selma Burke in honor of her being a part of our history. We have a statue that is currently in the town of Matthews' town hall, in which she donated to the Crestdale community. It's currently, as I say in the town hall and someday we hope to be able to--secure a place that we can bring it back to the community and highlight her contributions to Crestdale as well as the United States. She did this statue in 1944. It's probably the time I was born, and she visited Matthews in the early--in the late '90s and was welcomed by all people in the community--both black and white were seeking her autograph at the Reed House here in Matthews. We celebrated her life here in Matthews and we--people learned from history about Crestdale. We also have a statue that helps us be reminded of where the dime comes from. It's probably, as I refer to it--most people are carrying African art in their pockets and not being able--not even being aware of it.
DP: Well I wasn't aware of it. And I'm sorry to say that, but thank you for sharing that with me. I, you know, I guess this would tie into the fact that your family is one of the founding families I'm sure of this community, is that correct? I mean how far back--maybe that is a good way to segue into your history and your family’s history of this community. Do you mind starting with that a little bit?
HB: I'm told that my father and my grandfather started Mount Moriah Baptist Church and I think that's at least 125 years old. So we would have been here at least--our family would have been here at least 125 years. The church was directly across from the current house in which I live, it was started as an arbor and later developed into what would become a church. I do have an old photograph of that church. It was once sitting as I said directly across the street from my house.
DP: But it's not there anymore?
HB: It's not there anymore. If I can locate that photograph I'll be glad to share it with you.
DP: Oh, I would love to have you share that with us. I think that would be great. OK, because I know from interviewing you're mother, Mrs. Viola Boyd, that this is the house that she and her husband, Sam, built and I know that she once had a beauty shop in the back and that your father Sam who is now deceased worked on the railroad for was it 44 years?
HB: 44 years.
DP: Can you tell us--I kind of want you to just start with when you were a little boy if you don't mind, and you can kind of talk about Sam and your Mom, and let us know about your siblings. [mechanical noise] OK, now you're going to go back and tell us--what we'd like to know is just about your childhood and you know, I know you'll tell us a lot about your Dad and your Mom, and your brothers and sisters. If you don't mind just starting there.
HB: Well, I grew up in this house. The house was actually being built when I was born. The house is about 60 years old. I can vaguely remember Mom and Dad putting the house together, I can remember having funerals in the house where aunts and uncles were brought home during that period and laid out where we're sitting here and watching it happen in my life as a child, because back then people did bring their dead into their homes for viewing. That was kind of unusual--really unusual today.
DP: Yeah, really unusual. I do remember that though, I'm not far behind you, Harvey, so in age, so I do remember going to some funerals or some viewings in homes.
HB: I do remember the activity around that. There was food held in the kitchen, and people were bringing food in this house to the families. I recall as we--as Mom and Dad began to expand the house by first of all purchasing a section house, a railroad section house and having it attached to this house, bringing it on a truck to be attached to the house as an extension of the house.
DP: Can I stop you here and ask, what is a section house?
HB: At that point, if you worked for the railroad, you were given a house to live in. And I'm not sure whether you paid rent for it or not, but if you were a railroad person because you were very important to the nation and to the area because you had to maintain the tracks you were maintained also by being provided with a house to live in. And there were houses like that all up and down the eastern seaboard.
DP: Were they already built homes?
HB: They were already built.
DP: And they just transported them on the rail--?
HB: No they were probably constructed on those sites. The house that was constructed--that we have currently up as a part of this house was located where the current town hall of Matthews sits. And before that there was a Revco drugstore there. And I recall my brother having lived in that house and it was really only one big room which is the room over here.
DP: Behind us, where I came in?
HB: Yes, and his children were born there. I remember going to his house and seeing some of his children who were at that point very small babies, but I do recall being in that house. When they brought it here, it was like we had a bigger house that Mom and Dad had put their imaginations together and said "we don't have to build this we can move it down here on a truck". I grew up during a period when I wasn't really made very aware of segregation. I could never really understand what the problems were, but I do recall having to go to--I do recall wanting to be an artist. And having that explained to me by my Mom that--and others in the community telling me that "that's a very hard, rough career to be" and explaining to me that that was a "white man's field". But I didn't really, truly understand that. And thinking that God had given me a talent, it didn't make any difference whose field it was, if God gave me a talent He was going to figure a way to let me use it. So I decided to be an artist in spite of everything and decided to--I didn't know that the system had certain restrictions at that point, or they told me it had certain restrictions. I had to go to--First of all I had gone to all black schools. First I went to Matthews colored school which was within walking distance of my home. It sat where the current House of Prayer is located.
DP: OK, I was wondering what that building was when I just came in today.
HB: Yes that was the Matthews—it was where the Matthews Colored School was at that point.
DP: Can you elaborate a little about what the school was like specifically, some of the, you know, just what the classroom was like, what you had to use to get an education or lack of.
HB: Right, it was a four room building. I would say maybe 5,000 square feet total and I do have a picture of that.
DP: See, you do have some pictures you can share with me.
HB: Yes, and it was run by some very loving teachers I remember. I remember the first time I went there when you get your first shots, that's something you never forget 'cause you say "wow they're actually sticking me." I can still remember my first grade teacher, I can actually remember all of those teacher that were there at that time. One was very prominent in my life, he was not only my teacher, but he was also my preacher. His name was Reverend Gamble. And I remember Mrs. Bishop, Mrs. Ray, and those people stayed with me from the first grade until the seventh grade, and then we were transferred to Yates-Gunn High School or which was called Clear Creek School and that's off of Albemarle Rd. in the J.H. Gunn community currently.
DP: Is it still standing?
HB: It's still--well they just tore it down and built a brand new school on the site. It's gone through many changes in the past years.
DP: Now we're talking about during the '50s?
HB: We're talking about during the '50s. That was also an African American school, totally, 100%. But they didn't have art. They didn't have--I remember sitting in the algebra class and saying you know, it’s like "I can draw, God gave me this talent, so I've got to figure out a way to use it because if I don't use it, I'm wasting my talent. And in spite of everything he's gonna show me how to make it useful." So I transferred to West Charlotte, knowing that they had an art department there. And I figured out a way to go every morning by sometimes hitch-hiking with my father and my uncle who both worked in Charlotte.
DP: How did your parents feel about you doing that? Were they supportive of you?
HB: They were supportive to the extent that they didn't say "you can't do it". They made me aware that it was going to be a rough life; limited finances and things of that nature. But then I just felt it was absolutely necessary for me to follow what I considered my God was telling me to do. And it seemed to work out, to the point that I was then able to find my first job at--my first art job at the Charlotte Observer.
DP: Did you graduate from West Mecklenburg--
HB: --I did graduate from West Charlotte.
DP: I mean West Charlotte. Were there any other--was that a black high school?
HB: West Charlotte?
DP: Uh-huh.
HB: At that time it was 100% black.
DP: Ok.
HB: And that was during the late '50s and early '60s because I came out in '62.
DP: What size of a student body did it have?
HB: I would say a thousand to two thousand students.
DP: So that must have been a big change for you?
HB: That was going from a school that had maybe 300 people to 1,000 people or more.
DP: How did you feel about that, was that a positive or negative thing going to a huge school?
HB: Well that was very positive for me, because I began to see how the world really works. And I began to see different personalities, many different personalities; the good, the bad, and the ugly. So it was positive for me, and I did see--but I still focused on what I wanted to be so it really didn't make any difference.
DP: What kind of art classes did they offer?
HB: They only had one art--I was there for maybe two hours in an art class, and it was a Mr. Williams who was the art teacher at that point. All he would allow you to do is sit there and draw all day in his class and come up with creative ways of doing things. And that was like being in nirvana.
DP: So that was--
HB: That one hour a day of being what you wanted to do. And if you know anything about artists, when you're actually drawing, you feel that you're close to God because everything is flowing through you, and everything outside disappears.
DP: That's what I've heard.
HB: So when you have that option to do that every day, it's better than anything else in the world when you actually have that opportunity. [pause] That describes pretty much--
DP: Mr. Williams, your art teacher, was he someone who--can you tell me about if he recognized your talents and was he supportive?
HB: Very supportive, and it was probably the first time I had ever seen an African American artist. And to be able to say "wow, he's an artist, Mom and Dad just didn't know what they were talking about."
DP: So that was your first indication that that was a possibility, I mean truly a possibility.
HB: Yes.
DP: Because you see it happening.
HB: Right, and you see someone else doing it who looks like you, acts like you, talks like you. And think "Oh, they just have not been exposed to this."
DP: Was he someone who could help you plot out your course? As far as what you were doing in the future too?
HB: Well--
DP: Was he helpful in that way?
HB: Yes he was helpful. He was helpful in the sense that he pointed me toward Central Piedmont Community College. And during the '60s, I was probably one of the first African Americans in Central Piedmont. 'Cause I was--there were only two persons of my race in the art classes there at Central Piedmont and we--again, artists have a unique thing about them, it's almost like being in a club, it didn't make any difference what color you were, it was your ability. If we fell into those lines then everybody was focused on what they had to be, because they knew what they wanted to be. And we did work together quite well.
DP: So in the Central Piedmont--so what I'm hearing you say is that you were able to, or you were in a group of artists that were white and black.
HB: That were white and black.
DP: And that being an artist allowed all of you to rise above those black and white issues?
HB: At that point in time it did. I didn't run into that until after I got out of school.
DP: OK, so did you finish at Central Piedmont?
HB: I did, I finished and got my associate.
DP: And as an artist?
HB: As a graphic designer, I have an associate degree from them.
DP: But did you ever experience any [pause] racial problems at that school? That you would like to share with us, or barriers, or teachers that might of--
HB: Teachers that were unsure how to deal with because some of the teachers were older and had not had the experiences that some of the young kids had.
DP: How many black students do you think were attending at the same time you were?
HB: At that time, maybe a total of 15 to 20.
HB: Out of maybe 1,000 people. But that was again, I focused on my art, and that was the thing that allowed me to--
DP: When did you graduate from there?
HB: I came out of there in '63 or '64.
DP: Ok, so during that time, and even prior to that, there were probably things going on in the community or the city area.
HB: Yes, there were things going on in the city--
DP: Can you share any memories of--
HB: I remember most of the things that were happening were in northern cities.
DP: I know from what we studied that Charlotte didn't have a whole lot of confrontations or the very negative and huge problems like they had in other cities, but of course we know that we did have some things going on. I don't know if you remembered having marches or--
HB: I think the one thing I do recall is that I had made friends with a young white female, and I was taking her home one day and the police stopped us and made her get in the back seat as I drove her home as they followed me. I said "wow, this is really real." [laughs]
DP: So when they stopped you what happened, what was the transaction there?
HB: The transaction was--
DP: What did they stop you for?
HB: Because at that time it was against the law for--they were the enforcers of the law of segregation.
DP: So they stopped you solely because you had a white woman sitting in the car with you in the front seat.
HB: Yes. And that was probably the most dramatic thing that happened, because that's still in my head. I call it now – what would you call it?
DP: It's one of those a-ha moments?
HB: Yeah, like this is really real, this is not a game show kind of situation.
DP: Until that point was most of your exposure through the TV or the media of the problems going on, or since there wasn't that much going on--
HB: Most of my exposure was through TV, and also being at the school itself. But then after leaving Central Piedmont, my next exposure was the Charlotte Observer where I somehow got a job there designing ads, newspaper ads. And it's funny how certain things stick in your mind, 'cause they can make you grow, they can give you strength. And that's probably where I first encountered my working with people who were much older than me, and probably more imbedded in the old way of thinking, than I had ever seen in school because I was dealing with my same age group in school. But then all of a sudden I'm in an age group that's--say I'm 20, and these people are 50 or 60 years old. And then working around them was quite different. I remember being – everything was cordial, but not being able to--everyone in the mornings would get up and go to get their 10 o'clock coffee and I was never asked to go get coffee with them, but then I began to understand that I'm working in downtown Charlotte and there are signs on the doors that say "No Colored". And I began to say, "wait a minute, there’s something wrong here completely". And I began to fully understand what segregation meant for the first time. Now I had not--there was no physical, but there was a psychological game that was being played. I had my suit and tie, but nobody would ever ask me to go get coffee. They did hire -- there was another African American that was hired at that time, and we became very good friends. He was from my class which was at West Charlotte, so we would go to coffee every morning and it was like wow, because I had never worked in downtown Charlotte to know how it was structured.
DP: Can I stop you here and--if you went to coffee together where did you have to go to get your coffee?
HB: We would end up at--I think they had a Kress there and it was still segregated during that period, or we'd end up at Julius'? It was an orange crush.
DP: Like Orange Julius?
HB: That was it!
DP: Yeah I remember those places. Now did they have separate counters?
HB: Well everybody stood up at Orange Julius.
DP: Ok, but they had a separate section?
HB: At Kress' they had a separate section, OK. Let me see, and I left there – that’s amazing. That's when I really began to focus that "there is a difference here", but there ain't no difference because I had the positive experience of dealing with the kids, and run into the negatives dealing with the older folks. It was like wow this is two different worlds.
[train whistle in background]
DP: There comes the train!
HB: Yes.
DP: Well, I can imagine, I can't Imagine I mean, to be honest I forever have had this difficulty reconciling what happened during that time. I will never be able to understand it and I can't imagine what you had to go through trying to be--or being, you know, refused service or being limited to where you can go, I just can't imagine that type of life.
HB: Well we look back on it now and say "wow, the world was really crazy wasn't it?"
DP: Yeah, it was.
HB: Because you think about and you say "well, everybody spent a lot of money" you had two bathrooms--"[Laughs]
DP: I thought about that, you know that was a lot of—I mean really when you think about it
HB: Wow, we really had everything that was like, if it were going on today you would be spending billions of dollars just to maintain a form of, well, having lived in many different countries, I see and understand the cultural differences now, much clearer than I would have had I not had a chance to travel.
DP: And I know you're going to tell us about living in other countries.
HB: Yes, yes.
DP: [laughs] I want to hear that, but I think that you said, you've got your job at the Charlotte Observer, how long did you work there?
HB: I worked there for like, a year or two years, I believe.
DP: As a graphic artist?
HB: As a graphic designer, designing the newspaper ads.
DP: OK. Any particular ads that you were involved with or stores or anybody that you remember?
HB: I did small ads that were--I can't remember any specific ones, because I did a little bit of everything.
DP: Did you have to go out and solicit the business?
HB: No.
DP: Or did they just bring in the--
HB: Everything was brought to you, and you would sit there and that was before computers, long before computers, and you had to emulate letters. You'd learn how to write.
DP: To make it look like type?
HB: To make it look like type.
DP: Wow.
HB: With charcoal, and you'd spray it, and the sales person would take it out to the client and if he approved it then you would bring it back and it would be set in type, and next thing you know it would be in the newspaper.
DP: OK, did you also do pictures?
HB: I did airbrushing for pictures, to make sure that the wedding people had the veils on so you could actually see the veils. It was a limited form of art creativity, but at least I was drawing using my hands. That was very important for me as an artist.
DP: Do you remember, were you paid well?
HB: I think I was paid well, that’s when I was able to purchase my first automobile. A 1963 Malibu. And I was able to pay--
DP: What color?
HB: It was green with black interior and I was able to pay $83 a month on it. And that, to me, was after maintaining gas and all that kind of stuff.
DP: Were you living in Charlotte?
HB: I lived here. But after the experiences at the Observer and dealing with those older, set ways; It made me have a desire to go back to an African American school. 'Cause I said there’s nothing wrong with me and I have to figure out how this--what is this that I just saw, even though it was just for a couple years. But a couple years for a young man is a long time. And when you're firstly exposed to that--
DP: Would you say that was a turning point for you?
HB: That was a turning point. I decided that I needed to go back to a university where I could see other artists and people of color doing these things, and I decided to go to Howard, Howard University in Washington, DC. And that was quite exciting because the Observer allowed me, or arranged--helped me find employment at the Washington Post. Because the top managers were like, very supportive of me, and sometimes it is who you know. And so they made phone calls and gave me a letter of recommendation, and gave me even a letter, and I just threw that away a few years ago saying that if I did not like the Washington Post, I could come back there and have my old job back. And I says wow, these are really some nice people, but that was the top management. [laughs]
DP: You should have saved that letter.
HB: I should have saved that letter. [laughs] But I'm sure if I take it back today--
DP: It might be--well not to take it back necessarily, but it might be worth some money.
HB: Yes--I will never forget those people.
DP: What year was that?
HB: That was in 1963? Or '64.
DP: Okay so in '64 you were in Washington?
HB: In '64--in '65 I left to go to Washington.
DP: OK. I am just trying to keep this--
HB: Chronological.
DP: Chronological, and in my mind as well. So, you can continue, you were --
HB: After--I had benefitted from knowing top management at the Charlotte Observer.
DP: Well that tells me that you were doing a great job there, because even with the fact that they were old-codgers or had lots of prejudices embedded in their minds, that you must have been able to overcome that in their minds if they were--
HB: Yes.
DP: It sounds like you did a pretty good job for them.
HB: It was--as I've always found in life, there’s good and bad everywhere, it doesn't make any difference what color they are. It's just that--
DP: You sound like your mom.
HB: They're human beings, and it's like--there’s just good and bad people. And I discovered that there, and when I got to Howard I discovered it too. But the experience of working--going from the Charlotte Observer to the Washington Post was like "Wow, I got a job at the Washington Post". And I'm in a city now that is not segregated, so my coworkers and I would go drink beer, because you say, “well wow this is a complete switch from where I--"
DP: It's a major culture shock.
HB: Culture shock. And my neighbors are white and black, and they go have a beer after work together. Now they have no idea what I had just come through. [laughs]
DP: Did you ever share, I mean I'm sure you did.
HB: Well during that period, Yeah, I think we did. But they had no imagination, they couldn't imagine--
DP: Most of them didn't come from the south.
HB: Most of them didn't come from the south. They had no idea. And those who did come from Virginia, because they lived in the suburb of DC, didn't have--they had seen and were aware of African Americans, so they always considered a fear of something that was different as opposed to--I just figured that if you've never been around certain kind of people, you're maybe afraid of them.
DP: You're afraid of what you don't know.
HB: You're afraid. You're afraid.
DP: Now working for the Washington Post, I love that newspaper.
HB: Mhm.
DP: So tell me about that. What was that like?
HB: I worked in the production area, and then I also worked producing the ads for department stores that had to be--there was a certain step that had to be done before it could be put into the newspaper. And it's a masking where it would take red ink and blot out certain things so it would make--so it could be photographed.
DP: Were they more advanced technologically than the Charlotte Observer?
HB: Yes.
DP: OK, so you did get a step-up there as far as what you had to work with?
HB: Right, And then I also had a chance to work on a city desk. And I was able to be a part of the news room. So I had a chance to do a variety of things there that I didn't have the chance to do here. Then at the same time, I used that job to pay my way through college. So I worked and then Howard also gave me a scholarship.
DP: How many hours did you have to work a week?
HB: I had to work from 7 to 11 every night, and that was every day except Saturday and Sunday.
DP: And then were you taking a full load of--
HB: I was taking a full load, but Howard allowed me--they gave me a slight scholarship by letting me work to help pay for my tuition, so Mom and Dad never had to send any money, I paid for it all by myself.
DP: I can imagine it was pretty expensive though, still.
HB: It was still expensive--
DP: Being from out of state.
HB: Being from out of state, but that's a federal student--
DP: OK, so is it different?
HB: It's different.
DP: OK, alright, but still, I'm sure it was tight for you.
HB: Living in D.C. was very interesting.
DP: Did you live on campus?
HB: I lived off campus, I lived within walking distance of Howard. I was able to find a walk up of one bedroom on the third floor paying 89 dollars a month. And it was within walking distance.
DP: Living in Washington, D.C. is an enrichment of its own I would think.
HB: I was fascinated to be able to go to the museums, everything is free, the museums and that first year there I spent all my off days in the museums. Anywhere from the art museums to the Smithsonian Institute. At one point I knew every place--everything that was in every one of those museums, coming from this little area. Not having to pay for it was like "wow this is sweet". But you do pay for it, you pay--it comes out of your taxes.
DP: Right.
HB: But I was very glad to be able to educate myself by living there. The Washington Post was a beautiful place to work. I met a lot of celebrities. I met Katharine Graham.
[door bell rings]
DP: I was going to ask you about her.
HB: Miss Graham. I used to ride up an elevator with her every evening going to work. I was always fascinated by her 'cause she was just a very dignified looking lady and she had at that time instituted opening up to hiring minorities into the newspaper, and they were just beginning to integrate more by bringing in journalists, editorial writers, and people of that ale.
DP: Was Mrs. Graham in charge of the newspaper at this time?
HB: Yes.
DP: Ok she had already taken over.
HB: Right, from her son. Or her--
DP: Husband.
HB: Her husband.
DP: Her husband, didn't he pass away?
HB: Yeah.
DP: That's right, he committed suicide. Ok so when she took over did--So did you work at the newspaper before she took over?
HB: I worked there when she was
DP: Transitioning? So could you see changes--
HB: Yes.
DP: When she came in. Positive?
HB: Yes, very positive.
DP: Did you ever talk to her?
HB: No I didn't, but just being in the same elevator was like I was in the same elevator as Richard Nixon.
DP: Were you ever in the same elevator with Richard Nixon?
HB: Yes! That's when I worked at the Washington Times and I do have a book that was signed by him at the time. I say "wow, I keep getting in these strange elevators with these celebrities," and I'm like “oh, OK maybe I'm supposed to be one.” [laughs]
DP: I know! I think you are! [laughs] Well when did you go to the Times?
HB: Oh that's after I came back from Saudi Arabia.
DP: OK, I don't want to get ahead of ourselves so, you're at the Post and Mrs. Graham is hiring minorities.
HB: Yes, she is beginning to open it up more.
DP: And are you still working in the same position there?
HB: I'm working in the city desk.
HB: At night. And they seem to have made things convenient for me because they knew I had to go to school, and they knew what I was doing was trying to go to school. But Howard was like an opening for me, or it was like an eye-opener too in the sense that it was the first time I had actually seen that many African Americans being artists. And some of them were world-renowned. And I'm saying wow, I'm a little country boy from North Carolina thinking first of all that--and listening to some of the things my parents are telling me, "that’s a white man's field" and I'm going there and seeing black people doing this and some are world-renowned? I have, for instance, one person--one of my teachers was selling her paintings for 150,000 dollars.
DP: Hmm.
HB: And getting it! And I'm saying, "I know I can do this, I know this is real". Because here I am being taught by this lady to use water colors, but she explained to me her and what happened to her in her life, and what happened to her and her husband, and she was able to work with people like Picasso and she told us the stories of Picasso and when they worked together in Paris and how people would come down and Picasso would be out drawing in the sand, and people would be rushing back trying to get plaster of Paris, so they can get his imprints and become instant millionaires. You say "wow this is an African American woman who has done this, so there really shouldn't be any problem for me", because things have changed. They changed somewhat, and she went on. But I stayed in touch with her for like 20 years. She died about five years ago.
DP: Would you say she was like a mentor to you?
HB: She was my mentor, Pierre – Loïs Jones. Pierre-Noel. Her paintings, you can type her name into Google and she would come up and you can see all of her work.
DP: She was water color?
HB: She used water colors and she was a multi-colored person. She did all kinds of things. And she married a Haitian, he was an artist. And he designed stamps for Haiti. I went to their studio in their home and I'm saying, "this is an artist’s house" I mean, it’s not like this house that you see here, I mean, you know that it was an artist that lived there.
DP: Just because of--
HB: Of the way it was arranged, the papers that were, I won't say in disarray, but our studios are quite different than normal people are aware of. Even artists’ homes are different.
DP: In what way?
HB: In a sense that, the sense of order that you might find in a typical home, is not necessarily as ordered and as structured as what we are sitting in here. If I were to design my house, it would have shelves for my paper for my huge canvas' and things of that nature. And it probably would not be as "ordered" as this.
DP: I would think that's because artists are so into their talent, and their craft, and they’re creating art that keeping something ordered is not really that--
HB: The order is on the paper.
DP: Right. It's not in -- whether your floor has been swept or your furniture has been dusted or that type of thing.
HB: And I have been in enough different artists place to say that seems to be the way we are. Now as I say, there are different kinds of strokes for different folks, but that's just been my experience in being in the studios.
DP: Did you find yourself, when you were at Howard--it sounds like you started spending a lot of time with other artists--
HB: Yes.
DP: That were either teaching at the school or students or--
HB: Yes. As much as I could.
DP: Did that become your world? To some extent?
HB: Yeah. I figure I worked all the time. I really wasn't able to get to get into the university setting too much. I was working on both ends.
DP: Not enough time in the day.
HB: No. But then they allowed me to teach a class. I'm saying, "Wow that's amazing."
DP: Well that's an honor!
HB: It was really an honor for my professor to allow me to teach a class.
DP: What were you teaching?
HB: I was teaching graphic design or advertising design, because I had a portfolio that had the ads that I had worked at a newspaper before. And many of the kids had never been allowed to work at those newspapers.
DP: And how did you like that?
HB: I enjoyed it because it gave me a sense of "wow, I can pass this knowledge on." So when you go out to look for a job, you don't take your paintings with you, you take miniature ads. And people can see that you know what you're doing. 'Cause that was the key; you must know how to draw with a pencil to make the letters look like they are print. And if you can do that, and I can show you how to do that very quickly, chances are you get a job. In that part of the world, if you were able to get a job in that part, you could make very good money. Money at the Washington Post was like wow, everyone wanted to get into that department.
DP: Were there other opportunities besides newspaper for what you--
HB: Hmm, well during the period when I was in school, there was no other opportunities, because that was allowing me to work at night, I mean work at night and pay for my schooling.
DP: Right.
HB: After I left college I was recruited out of Howard for an advertisement agency. I did internships at--first I did an internship in Detroit working for General Motors for their advertising agency, Campbell-Ewald. Then I had another internship at Leo Burnett in Chicago. And the recruiters came on campus and because I had a book that looked like it was advertising, they said, "So maybe he knows what he's doing."
DP: So it was very important to have that portfolio.
HB: Yes, as opposed to--
DP: Do you think maybe you had a little more experience because you had the opportunity to work at the Charlotte Observer?
HB: Yes, that was my first--by having had that experience, it showed that, "Hey, at least he knows what goes on inside this bigger world.
DP: And as you are, you know, obviously working in these jobs, you are creating your portfolio as you go.
HB: Yes. Right, right. That was the key.
DP: What was it like when you moved further north to work in Detroit?
HB: In Detroit? When I went to Detroit, I was, as I said I was recruited. I picked up all my stuff, I thought I had made it. [laughs] I moved my house, my furniture, all I had to do was take myself there.
DP: General Motors?
HB: Campbell-Ewald.
DP: Oh, Campbell-Ewald. Ok, that's right.
HB: Which is the advertising agency for General Motors.
DP: OK, so they took care of everything for you?
HB: They took care of everything. And I says wow this is the top of the world. [laughs] So--
DP: Did they have a place for you already set up to live?
HB: They had someone who was assigned to show me--Yeah, they had a person assigned to help me find a place to live. And during that period, being paid fifteen, sixteen thousand dollars is a lot of money for anybody at that point. And that's in the '60s, '70s, early '70s.
DP: What year did you graduate from--
HB: I left Howard in '70.
DP: Yeah, that was a lot of money, like you said.
HB: Yes, and I ended up at their corporate headquarters. And I began to understand how the economy can affect advertising. When car sales are down, the first people to go are the people in advertising. I said "Uh-oh, is this what mom was talking about?" [laughs]
DP: She knew--you know, thinking about that time period, OK, we’re going into the '70s we had the oil and embargoes and we had all the huge cars that Detroit was producing and then nobody could afford to put gas into those kind of cars.
HB: Yes.
DP: But they did make that kind of transition into smaller cars somewhere along what? Mid -- trying to think.
HB: It was like '75--
DP: Started producing--
HB: Yeah, it takes about ten years, they tell me for those--
DP: So do you think that was one of the big impacts on the economy as far as your job?
HB: The biggest impact was--Yeah, they were laying people off. I mean, I could hear them on the radio laying a hundred thousand, and another thousand off at this plant--
DP: I think I remember that time, and in my mind you're thinking, all these people that were working on cars, but it affected people in every department.
HB: Every place.
DP: --In the advertising department--
HB: The ripple.
DP: So did you--how long were you able to stay there before--
HB: I was able to find another job at another automobile company.
DP: So did they just furlough you from--
HB: From my dream job? Yes.
DP: They just, couldn't keep you any longer.
HB: Right, and I ended up at another advertising agency, Chrysler Advertising.
DP: Ok.
HB: And I was able to stay there a while, but then I began to understand that there’s a trend in this, in this particular city. They lay you off every three to five years. And people seem to know each other good, and they know that they are getting laid off and I don't think I liked this because I was taught, like my father. He had 40 years and I'm thinking "this is not gonna work."
DP: You wanted to go somewhere and stay--
HB: And stay.
DP: Indefinitely.
HB: But that was in the wrong field, and then I later found that that is the nature of that business. The advertising business unless you are in newspapers.
DP: Mhm.
HB: Because that’s a steady job in there. Advertising is looking for youth, once you get to be a certain age, it's like you're over the hill. You don't know the trends. You don't know the slang words.
DP: Yeah, I think you're right. The key word is "trends."
HB: Yes.
DP: Because they want to market to the young people.
HB: Right. And I was beginning to say this was not for me. That's when I began to move back toward newspapers.
DP: And that was what time you think?
HB: That was '70--. No, I'm sorry, I didn't move back to newspapers, I moved to retail. Where I could design these beautiful ads that people would buy TV sets and dresses and things.
DP: Did you enjoy that?
HB: I enjoyed that because it gave me an opportunity to express the layouts. To be able to draw the layouts, so the client could approve it. You had to understand how much space this particular item was paying because every page in, at that time, in the newspaper ad from a department store is paid by that particular product.
DP: Right.
HB: And you had to understand that, and how to make it look pretty.
DP: Mhm. Well did the economy impact that as well?
HB: It didn't as much because I--it's funny I went from making $15,000 now to $7,000.
DP: Wow.
HB: I say "whoa." But I was able to survive and I was lucky that I didn't live up to my means.
DP: Yeah, you didn't live above, or the way most people do now.
HB: Yeah.
DP: How did you need up back in Washington?
HB: I ended up in Washington because I worked at a -- at Crowley’s Department store in Detroit. That’s--the jobs carried me through for a couple years. And I won a contest there for the best design--my team won a contest, for best design of some national--for some national program. And they gave us a trip to Chicago. And while we were there in Chicago I got a chance to meet the marketing director of the Washington Woodies and Lothrop.
DP: Mhm. Yeah.
HB: And while we had won the best, she says "Well, wow." I said "Sure would like to move back to DC, it's really cold up here for me." [laughs]
DP: [laughs] Too cold?
HB: And so she knew what I was doing, and within a week’s time she had called me and says "Look, would you really like to move back?" And I was back within three weeks, back to D.C. And I really felt good, I said wow I'm still walking between rain drops without getting rained on too much [laughs].
DP: [laughs] Interesting way to put that.
HB: [laughs] So that's how I ended up back there because of winning an award in Chicago, in front of the person from DC. And she having enough faith in me. And she was a commuter! She commuted from Detroit to DC every weekend.
DP: Oh.
HB: So she was always on the plane. I used to always take her out to the airport so she could go home.
DP: Were you glad to be back in Washington?
HB: Oh I was very glad because I grew up here, and D.C.'s weather is still rather cold, and there’s a lot of snow there sometimes, but I kept feeling like the older I get, the more I want to get away from this cold weather.
DP: Mhm.
HB: And that was like the only place I could feel that "wow you can at least get back to where it doesn't snow all the time." Detroit was like, snowing in May -- let me see. It starts in September and you don't see the ground until May.
DP: Yeah. They've got that lake up there that's--
HB: This is not real, this is for people in a completely--
DP: You have to be born there to really--
HB: You have to be born there, and you--
DP: Be able to handle it I think.
HB: Yeah, and for me it was like, people don't have a smile here because nobody else smiled, it was too cold to smile.
DP: Yeah, probably don't see a lot of sunshine either. Is it one of those cities kind of rainy, cloudy a lot?
HB: And for me that was not living. It was depressing. D.C. was the closest thing I could get because well there was no major department stores at home that I was aware that were hiring. I had then become very aware of the fact that I was in a predominately white field. And that I would see very few black people in advertising. It was like, if you leave a big city--but that's changed now, because one of our jobs at one of the advertising agencies was--this is after the riots, was how can we be more inclusive--
DP: This is in Washington?
HB: This is when I lived in Chicago.
DP: Chicago, so there were riots there that burnt--
HB: Yes, there were riots in you know, '68, '69, '70s. It began to wake up the major movers and shakers--we have to have a systematic change in this country. From a psychic stand point. And this is where the artist comes in, this is where we sat down and figured out "wow, you know, everything in America is all white. There are no blacks in advertising." There are no people--blacks are not buying Cadillacs, you don't see them doing these things, we know they are. So this is where the artist came in. We'd sit around these long tables discussing how we can do that without offending the other customers. I remember talking about how to deal with Kellogg’s corn flakes, and making it more appealing to all races by just putting--my instructor went with me to Chicago, how we absolutely helped change the color of advertising in America.
DP: Were you trying to, I’ll try to make sure I understand—
HB: We were trying to be more inclusive.
DP: OK, so you were trying to appeal to--there’s a big market.
HB: Both.
DP: With African Americans that maybe the advertising--
HB: It had not been targeted to.
DP: Communicating with.
HB: Right.
DP: And they were losing a lot
HB: And they were losing and it was important for us--that's why we were brought into those agencies, to help them figure out how to do it without offending anyone. And so today you see African Americans and white people in all kinds of--
DP: So that was probably--what you're saying is that was the reason they kind of let down that barrier. And they started integrating advertising and maybe some other--professions because of, we're talking the bottom line: money.
HB: Yes.
DP: You know?
HB: Yes, yes. I really believe--
DP: That's a pretty interesting aspect of it I think.
HB: I really believe that we were part--my little part of doing was what I see on TV today, because before you would never see -- I had some old ads and there was nothing in there that deals with various ethnic groups.
DP: Can you tell me in particular, or give me an example of what a change would have been and you might have been involved with that we have changed in an ad that has made it more appealing to African Americans?
HB: We talked about Kellogg’s Cornflakes having at least a picture of a black person on the front of the Kellogg’s box just to say “hey!” When you walk down the aisle you see a black man on the front of the Kellogg’s box.
DP: Black people buy this too, or could eat this too.
HB: And black people buy this too.
DP: Did they market it any particular--did they market it everywhere or do you know whether they marketed it just in African American communities?
HB: After a while they began to market it everywhere. First it was a fear of like okay, we got southern constituents here and we'll lose are sales here, but eventually it will catch on. And it has caught on, you see us flying airplanes, you see us doing everything. Whereas before it wasn't done, so that was how deep the--that's where an artist comes in again.
DP: Yeah, that's pretty interesting. I would never have thought about that until you brought that up.
DP: That's great. Were you, can I ask you, were you involved in any during that time, in the NAACP?
HB: I was--I did attend meetings I think in Detroit, primarily Detroit because I was around people who were into that--
[end of tape]
DP: We were talking about that you did go to some NAACP meetings in Chicago.
HB: In Chicago, and in Detroit too.
DP: And what was your feeling about those meetings, or did that inspire you in anything?
HB: It began too--the people that I would meet at those meetings were--I was beginning to understand that this was not just a black thing, and for one thing I found and began to understand that the NAACP was not all about black folks, but how we were going to make this country better.

Wrap up and overview by Debra Pettus

Harvey Boyd's current "mission" is preserving the land and the community of Crestdale, located southeast of Charlotte, in Matthews. Born in 1944, to Viola and Sam Boyd, Harvey described Crestdale as "a unique community in the U.S. One of the oldest African American communities founded right after the Civil War." Sitting on 135 acres of land in the center of Matthews, it is still owned by ancestors of the original families. Currently, plans are in progress to develop the land in a way that will, as Harvey said "allow it to be one of the jewels in Matthews for low to moderate income people." Harvey is working with not only African Americans, but also European and Asian investors to ensure that the community will hold onto some of its history. Crestdale has always been home for a diverse range of individuals such as doctors, lawyers and school teachers, and Harvey wants to make sure this trend will continue.
Once called "Tank Town," because of its position on the rail line, Crestdale was a stopping point for trains to get water as they continued their trip to Hamlet, NC. Harvey's family has been in Crestdale for 125 years. He grew up in the house he is currently living in at 350 Crestdale, and now cares for his 94 year-old mother, Mrs. Viola Boyd.
Harvey knew very early that he wanted to be an artist and, even though his parents cautioned him against pursuing art because it was a "white man's field," Harvey felt that "if God gave me this talent, he was going to figure out a way to let me use it." Unfortunately, in the 1950's, art was not offered in the black schools of Matthews so Harvey transferred to all the black West Charlotte High School, and "figured out a way to go every morning by sometimes hitchhiking." He spent two hours a day in the only art class offered at West Charlotte, and described it as "being in Nirvana." His teacher, Mr. Williams, became one of Harvey's first mentors and encouraged him to continue school at CPCC to study graphic design. Consequently, Harvey was one of the first African Americans to attend CPCC during the 1960's and there he focused on his art while becoming friends with other white and black art students. He recalled at that time there were "things" going on in the Charlotte community, but most of the Civil Rights events were taking place in northern cities. The one thing he did recall as an episode involving the Charlotte police. One of Harvey's friends was a young white female and hewas taking her home one day in his car, when a police cruiser stopped them and made the young woman move from the front seat to the back seat. Harvey then drove her home as the police cruiser followed. According to Harvey, "that was probably the most dramatic thing that happened, because that's still in my head..."
Eventually, Harvey got a job at the Charlotte Observer designing newspaper ads. It was here that he had his first encounter with the older white establishment. He remembered when his "white" coworkers went for coffee every morning but never invited him because he was black. Jim Crow was alive in Charlotte, and for the first time he began to "fully understand what segregation meant."
Later, when Harvey moved to Washington, DC to attend Howard University, he suddenly found himself in a city that was not segregated. He quickly got a job with the Washington Post and loved the freedoms of begin able to go out with his coworkers, white and black, with no restrictions or signs saying "No Colored" allowed. Harvey laughed as he remembered "they had no idea what I had just come through." Harvey laughed as he remembered "they had no idea what I had just come through." Harvey worked at the Washington Post to pay for his education at Howard University. After Howard, he ended up working in advertising in Detroit and Chicago and was involved with creating ideas to capture the black consumer market. Some of his concepts were implemented at Kellogg's when, for the first time, a black person was featured on a box of cereal, enjoying a bowl of Kellogg's corn flakes. Harvey's gifted talents eventually produced the award-winning Mecklenburg County seal, which is still being used today.
When one talks to Harvey Boyd, there is a sense of wisdom beyond his years. He is no doubt an artist, but he is also a maestro of his African American community. His values are lived out every day through his relationship with his mother, as he tenderly cares for her every need. When asked if Harvey was ever involved with the NAACP, he replied that he did interact with some members and attended meetings while he was living in Detroit. When asked about his feelings for the group he replied, "I began to understand that this was not just a black thing, I began to understand that the NAACP was not all about black folks, but it was how we were going to make this country better."