By Kristen Anderson
MATTHEWS – Harvey Boyd, a graphic artist and longtime resident of Matthews, designed the county seal for Mecklenburg County.
While working in the ad department of the Charlotte Observer in 1964, Boyd read that the Chamber of Commerce was soliciting ideas for an official county seal. Though only 20 years old, he decided to try his hand at a design.
As he thought about how to artistically represent the past, present and future of Mecklenburg County, Boyd said he was inspired by one of his heroes, Crispus Attucks, the first man killed in the Boston Massacre. Attucks, who was of African and Native American descent, stood up for the ideals of freedom.
As an African American man in the South during the 1960s, Boyd experienced first-hand the stark contrast between the notion of freedom and the reality of enforced racial segregation.
Pondering on the example of Attucks, Boyd thought, “In spite of what I’m living, there were other people who understood the concept of freedom.” He wanted his design to be “a reminder of what we are supposed to be.”
After the Civil War in 1870, 130 acres were set-aside near the center of what is now Matthews as a place for freedmen to live. Crestdale is the oldest African American community in Mecklenburg County.
It was in this neighborhood where Harvey Boyd grew up. He lives in the house his parents built when he was a baby in 1944. It was a close-knit community of approximately 500 residents.
“Everyone knew everybody,” Boyd said.
Although Jim Crow laws were in effect, Boyd fondly remembers his childhood.
For example, to compensate for not being allowed to swim in the community pool, he and a friend hatched a plan to build a pool in Harvey’s backyard. They spent many hours digging the hole, adding cement and then filling it with water. The experiment was a failure. Instead of a pool, they built a giant mud hole.
“All this time, my mom and dad knew that it wouldn’t work, but they didn’t stop us,” Boyd said. “I was lucky to have those kind of parents.”
Boyd developed a desire to study art. He practiced drawing people’s eyes while sitting in church. He thought, “Wow, I can do this!” Since no one else he knew could draw like that, he recognized this talent to be a gift from God.
“If He gave me this talent, I should be able to use it somehow,” he said.
So while his family and friends discouraged him and told him that studying art was a “white man’s field,” Harvey resolved to improve his skills. His high school did not have any art classes, so he transferred to West Charlotte High School and hitchhiked daily to get there.
After high school, he enrolled in the graphic arts program at Central Piedmont Community College. Although he was one of only a handful of African Americans attending CPCC, he felt welcome because his classmates judged him by his skills and not by his skin color.
His artistic abilities landed him a job designing ads for the Charlotte Observer. Working in the city, away from his accepting neighbors and classmates, Boyd said he became more aware of racial inequalities. Since he wasn’t allowed to enter certain establishments in town, he was not invited to attend social gatherings with his colleagues after work.
It was under this setting that Boyd began crafting his design for the Chamber of Commerce’s competition to create a seal that honored and represented Mecklenburg County.
Along the top, he depicted an eagle clutching a banner inscribed with the date of May 20, 1775 – the date the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was signed. He drew an inkwell, a quill and a piece of parchment to also represent this document that declared freedom from British rule a year before the actual Declaration of Independence.
Next to it, Boyd sketched a hornet’s nest. During the Revolutionary War, the British General Charles Cornwallis declared all of Mecklenburg a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.”
Underneath those symbols of Mecklenburg’s past, Boyd drew a farm, illustrating the current landscape for much of the county, followed by a scene of tall skyscrapers, representing its future.
At the time, the tallest building in Charlotte was only 13 stories high. As the son of a railroad worker, Boyd got free passage on weekends to ride the train up to Virginia and back. He marveled at the tall skyscrapers on those journeys and envisioned they would be built here someday.
This entry was chosen as the winning design. The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners officially adopted it, displaying it on the side of the county courthouse and at the top of official county documents.
Boyd went on to study at Howard University and then had a successful career as a graphic artist in locations around the world. In 1988, he returned to his childhood home in Crestdale to take care of his aging parents.
“I’m glad I did that,” he said.
Having lost his eyesight, Boyd can no longer draw. However, he still enjoys the companionship of his neighbors and friends from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Mount Moriah Baptist Church faith communities.
His advice for the younger generation?
“Pursue what you really enjoy,” he said, “but at the same time, pray that you’ll be guided.”