The Rev. Will D. Campbell was a poor white boy from Mississippi who preached his first sermon from a pulpit stocked with a Bible from the Ku Klux Klan. But this son of the segregated South ”” a self-avowed “good ol’ boy with crazy ideas” ”” did not follow the conventional career path for a Southern Baptist minister in the 1950s.
He became the only white man admitted to the founding meeting of the seminal Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. That same year, when nine black students attempted to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., he was one of three white ministers who guided them past a fierce white mob. Later, when civil rights workers targeted Nashville lunch counters, he rounded up sympathetic whites to nudge the business owners toward integration.
Often his actions brought threats, such as the time when, as chaplain at the University of Mississippi, he openly played pingpong with a black person. The next thing he knew, someone had slipped excrement into his punch bowl….