NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Rev. Will Campbell, a white minister who drew acclaim for his involvement in the civil rights movement, has died at the age of 88.
John Egerton, a close friend of Campbell’s for nearly 50 years, said Campbell died June 3 from complications following a stroke he had about two years ago. Egerton said he was contacted by Campbell’s son, who was at the minister’s bedside in Nashville when he died.
“He never really recovered from it,” Egerton said of the stroke.
Campbell was the Nashville representative of a pro-integration group called the National Council of Churches. Because he was white, he was allowed entry into rooms unapproachable by some of those at the forefront of the movement.
“When we had the sit-ins, Will would show up,” Bernard Lafayette, a civil rights leader in Nashville and close friend of Campbell’s, told The Tennessean newspaper.
“We knew there was somebody who cared and was concerned about what happened to us. He was reminding us that there were some white people who believed in what we were doing.”
Campbell was born in 1924 in Amite County, Miss. After a stint in the military, he attended Yale, where he got a divinity degree in 1952 and then headed to Taylor, La., to preach at Taylor Southern Baptist Church.
The Tennessean reports that former President Jimmy Carter said of Campbell: “He used the force of his words and the witness of his deeds to convey a healing message of reconciliation to any and all who heard him.”
While he supported integration, Campbell preached to those against it. “I always say that Will became the civil rights chaplain for the Ku Klux Klan,” Lafayette said.
Campbell was known for saying: “If you’re gonna love one, you’ve got to love ’em all.”
A memorial service for Campbell is planned for later this month.