Obituary: Malcolm Boyd

By |2015-03-12T09:00:00-04:00March 12th, 2015|Michigan, News|

Rev. Malcolm Boyd was many things. He was a freedom rider who marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in the Deep South. He was the author of over two dozen books and collections of poetry and prayers, including the 1965 bestseller, “Are You Running With Me Jesus?” And, eventually, he was an openly gay Episcopal priest at the time when such a thing was virtually unheard of. Boyd died in Los Angeles on Feb. 27 from complications of pneumonia. He was 91.
Boyd was born in Buffalo, New York in 1923 to Beatrice and Melville Boyd. His mother was a fashion model, his father an investment banker. When his parents divorced in the 1930s, Boyd moved with his mother to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and then onto Denver.
Bronchial problems kept him out of World War II. Instead, Boyd graduated from the University of Arizona in 1944 with a degree in journalism before making his way to Hollywood. He did publicity work for Republic Pictures before moving onto producing. He formed a production company with friend and former silent screen star Mary Pickford. He counted among his friends the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Gloria Swanson and went on to become the first president of the Television Producers’ Association of Hollywood.
Then, in 1951, he shocked most who knew him by leaving the industry and turning to ministry instead. He studied at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California, and later, after a few years abroad, Union Theological Seminary in New York. He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1955. Two years later, Boyd’s first book, “Crisis in Communication,” was published by Doubleday.
By the start of the 1960s, Boyd had become deeply involved in the civil rights movement. He traveled to the Deep South frequently on voter’s registration drives and fought for the end of segregation. He moved to Detroit in 1961 to become the Episcopal chaplain for Wayne State University.
While at Wayne, Boyd held weekly open houses and encouraged others to take up the cause of civil rights. One of those meeting regulars was Viola Liuzzo, a housewife and mother of five who had recently began attending WSU. Liuzzo was so inspired that she traveled to Selma, Alabama for a voter’s rights march in 1965. She would never return to Detroit. Instead, she was shot dead by a member of the Klu Klux Klan just outside of Montgomery while attempting to pick up marchers waiting to return to Selma.
Boyd traveled throughout the 60s, lecturing and reading poetry. He performed at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1966, reading his work while guitarist Charlie Byrd accompanied him. He picked up the moniker “Espresso Priest” for the time he spent reading his work in coffeehouses.
As the 70s began, Boyd expanded to activism to include protesting the war in Vietnam. But it was in 1976 that he took his boldest move yet: coming out as a gay man. He wrote about the experience in his 1978 book, “Take Off the Masks.” Though he had trouble finding a position at a church for some time after his announcement, Boyd kept busy. He held consciousness-raising groups for gays and organized one of the first Christian masses for people with AIDS in 1984.
Since 1996, Boyd had been a writer in residence at the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. He wrote a regular column for the Huffington Post, including a recent one in which he asked for a meeting with Pope Francis to discuss gay rights. He is survived by his husband, Mark Thompson.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael joined Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. He has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author for his authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," released on his own JAM Books imprint.