For as long as he could remember, Will Davis Campbell wanted to be an evangelical preacher in a small southern church. He was ordained by the elders of the East Fork Baptist Church at the age of seventeen and was attending Louisiana College when the United States entered WWII. Campbell volunteered for the army in 1943 and was assigned to a medical unit in the Pacific. While serving in that capacity he read the historical novel Freedom Road by Howard Fast and his views on race relations were challenged “in a very dramatic and lasting fashion.”
After the war, Campbell attended Wake Forest, Tulane, and Yale Divinity School. He graduated and was called to be the pastor at a Baptist church in Taylor, Louisiana, but his progressive views on race and the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision inspired him to seek a more academic position. Campbell became Chaplin at the University of Mississippi but again his progress stance on the issue of race generated a great deal of controversy. After two and a half years, he resigned and went to work for the National Council of Churches as a field director for race relations, a role that would thrust him into the national spotlight as the Civil Rights Movement began heating up.
1976 – Will Davis Campbell grew up in the East Fork community with plans of becoming a preacher. In this episode he recalls how his thinking on race relations evolved while serving in the army. Campbell became a field director for the National Council of Churches in 1956. He explains how that position brought him to Civil Rights hotspots throughout the South.
In 1957, a group of nine African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School. Campbell recounts escorting the students through the angry mob gathered out front. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference recruited a group of 125 rabbis, priests, and ministers to come to Albany, Georgia in 1963 to be arrested and immediately bailed out of jail. The plan was to shine a national spotlight on the city’s anti-congregation laws. Campbell remembers how Andrew Young allowed the clergymen to remain incarcerated overnight to get the "full activist experience."
CAUTION: CONTAINS RACIALLY EXPLICIT LANGUAGE