Retired Army Maj. Ernest Boyd, the first African American graduate of Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, died March 5 at the age of 67. He resided in Madison, Alabama.
A native of Tuskegee, Alabama, Boyd graduated from Auburn with a degree in forestry in 1976 and remained active as an alumnus, particularly in diversity efforts. In recent years, he was a supporter of the African American Alumni Endowed Scholarship in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.
In 2016, the school honored Boyd during a celebration of its then-40-year history of diversity. At the event, Boyd—also the first African American in the Southeast to earn a degree in forestry—reflected on race relations and how they had improved since his graduation.
“What my classmates and the instructors at Auburn learned is that you have to find out where the other person’s values lie,” Boyd said at the time. “They came to find out that my values were the same as theirs. I wanted a good education and livelihood for me and my family. Once they found out where I was coming from, they looked at me and said, ‘What’s the difference? Nothing but the color of our skin.’”
Boyd attended Auburn on an ROTC scholarship. After graduation, he went to work for Hammermill Paper in Selma, Alabama, but had to leave seven months later to report to active duty with the U.S. Army. He began an 18-year career with the Army, achieving the rank of major and serving in Germany, Turkey, Greece and, during the first Gulf War, Iraq.
After his military career, Boyd earned master’s degrees in education and higher education administration at Alabama A&M and the University of Alabama, respectively, before starting a new career as an educator. He taught for nearly a decade, first at an elementary school in Huntsville, then at the high school level in Decatur, before retiring.
Kenneth Day, a fellow Black alumnus and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council, said Boyd leaves a significant legacy.
“The cohort of Black alumni will forever cherish the trail he blazed for diverse students at Auburn University in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences,” Day said of Boyd.
Boyd’s impact will affect future generations of students, said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.
“Mr. Boyd was one of our proud alumni and a trailblazer to promote minorities in Auburn’s forestry and natural resources programs,” Alavalapati said. “His success will be an inspiration for minorities to get into these fields. The school will miss Mr. Boyd, but his legacy will continue to guide us forward.”
Services for Boyd will be held at noon Saturday, March 13, at Royal Funeral Home in Huntsville. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that Boyd be honored through contributions in his name to the Auburn University chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Science, or MANRRS. To make a gift, go to https://alumniq.auburn.edu/giving/to/boyd.
Boyd once said he saw the collegiate sprit of Auburn as a unifying force among people of different races and backgrounds; he believed that the phrase “War Eagle!” could ease tensions to bring folks together.
“I can talk to anybody,” he said. “People open up once you break that ice.”
(Written by Teri Greene)