(Apr. 24, 1931-July 21, 2022). Rozelle Boyd was born in Indianapolis. He attended segregated George Washington Carver School No. 87 and Crispus Attucks High School. He briefly attended Indiana Central College before transferring to Butler University from where he graduated with a B.A. in U.S. History and Political Science in 1957.

Upon graduation, Boyd took a job at Attucks teaching U.S. History and Government, never intending to become a politician. On June 22, 1959, he and two other Attucks teachers became the recipients of a grant allowing them to take a 6-week Guidance Counseling Training Course at Northwestern University. Boyd added to his teaching duties by counseling students in Attucks’ adult education program. Boyd himself continued his education as a Lilly Fellow, graduating with an M.A. in U.S. History from Indiana University in 1964.

Boyd took an interest in global outreach opportunities while simultaneously teaching. From 1963 to 1966, he worked with the Operation Crossroads Program, similar to the Peace Corps, on construction projects in Africa. Three times, Boyd led delegations of North American students to Southern Africa (now Botswana), Ethiopia, and Senegal to build schools, clinics, and libraries.

A man is talking to a group of four other men, one of which is a young Rozelle Boyd.
Fabien Sevitsky (far left), conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, is pictured with (from left to right) an orchestra member, Attucks history teacher Rozelle Boyd, Attucks principal Dr. Russell A. Lane, and Attucks music teacher Norman Merrifield, ca. 1950 Credit: Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

Civic leader Frank Perry Lloyd and then-Marion County Democratic Chairman Jim Beatty encouraged Boyd to run for the county council which, in the pre-Unigov years still remained separate from the city council. He ran in 1965 becoming the first African American to win a seat. He joined the council at a time when civil rights for Black people had just been enacted into law. Despite the turbulent period in history, Boyd continued to win election after election, though his party consistently remained in the minority.

After 11 years at Attucks, Boyd took a position at Indiana University as the assistant dean for University Division from 1968 to 1975. In addition to his role as dean, he lectured in African American Studies courses. Furthermore, Boyd founded and directed the IU Groups Scholars Program, which seeks to increase college attendance rates among first-generation, low-income, and physically challenged students. Still active, the program assists approximately 300 students each year as they adjust to the challenges of college life.

Politically, Boyd supported the Republican gamble to construct Circle Centre Mall and the Hoosier Dome during the early years of the William H. Hudnut III administration. Boyd’s support earned him a spot on the informal yet exclusive “City Committee,” a tight circle of public and private downtown development visionaries. Boyd and William A. (Bill) Crawford were the only two African Americans in the group Richard Lugar had formed during his mayorship.

In 1989, Boyd created the Citizens Police Complaint Board. Though the Indianapolis Police Department objected to its formation, Boyd urged its creation in the wake of the suspicious circumstances around the death of 16-year-old Michael Taylor in the back of a police vehicle.

Legislatively, Boyd did not shy away from bringing attention to controversial social issues. His proposal for an anti-apartheid measure calling for economic sanctions against South Africa met defeat in 1985. However, he was instrumental in pushing for an amendment to Indianapolis’ human rights ordinance that included protections for the LGBTQ community, a difficult task in the early 2000s.

Boyd became the first Black and Democratic city-county council president in 2004. He and his party had to learn how to govern since no Democrat had been elected president prior to 2004, and only half a dozen have been elected since then. His term lasted just one year when his former Attucks student, Steve Tally unseated him with Republican backing. In 2007, Boyd lost his bid for reelection. Still, with 42 years of service, he was the longest serving city-councilman in Indianapolis history.

Rozelle Boyd was a role model for future generations of African Americans as well as a Renaissance Man. During his life, he served on countless community boards including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the oldest intercollegiate historically African American fraternity, founded at Cornell University on December 4, 1909. Few know of Boyd’s musical talent playing the double bass. With his band, Rozelle Boyd’s Tempos, later renamed the Rozelle Boyd Combo, he, his brother on sax, and James DuPee on piano performed in jazz venues and event spaces along Indiana Avenue in the early 1960s.

Revised May 2023

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