The Rev. Will D. Campbell — author, civil rights activist and “renegade” preacher — died Monday night in Nashville, from complications following a stroke he suffered in 2011. He was 88.
Campbell is survived by his wife of 67 years, Brenda, as well as a son, two daughters and four grandchildren. He died surrounded by his family.
Author John Egerton, a longtime friend of Campbell's, confirmed news of the minister's death.
Campbell’s death comes with a sense of relief for the ones who loved him, Egerton said. Campbell had spent the last two years at a Nashville rehab facility following what his friend categorized as a massive stroke.
Egerton said, “He was a very unusual person in so many ways. As far as his credentials were concerned they were pretty much impeccable.”
The reverend battled injustice in the segregated South through his work with the civil rights movement and nonviolent protests, then with his pen through his numerous writings. Campbell authored several books including 1977’s memoir Brother to a Dragonfly, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Egerton said, “He had within him — no one could say how it got there — a deep sense of injustice about race relations because he saw everywhere he looked that African-Americans … had no rights. They had no political or economic or social standing in the society, and it offended him. He spent his life working to bring a better outcome.”
The New York Times reported that Campbell grew up in segregated Mississippi to become an ordained Baptist minister at the age of 17. He later attended Yale Divinity School and served as the chaplain at University of Mississippi before death threats over his views on integration drove him away, according to the Times.
In a 2005 Nashville Scene cover story, Campbell took aim at the Southern Baptist Convention and its leaders saying, “those people that run the [Southern Baptist Convention] Lifeway show. They don’t show me much about the Christian faith. They hate, hate everybody except themselves and their power.”
The sentiment paralleled a favorite phrase of Campbell’s: “We’re all bastards, but God loves us anyway.”
But Egerton recalls another popular saying of Campbell’s: “If you love one, you got to love them all.”
“That’s what he lived by,” Egerton said. “It was not just a patina, it was the real guy.”
At this time, arrangements were still incomplete, but a memorial is expected to take place later this month.