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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2002
University of Southern Mississippi Libraries present virtual exhibit on Will D. Campbell

March 1, 2002

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries’ Special Collections is presenting a virtual exhibit based on the Will D. Campbell Papers held at the McCain Library & Archives.

Will D. Campbell: A Man of the Word emphasizes Campbell’s work as a preacher, writer, and public speaker with digital reproductions of manuscript materials and photographs, audio excerpts from the Will D. Campbell oral history interview, narrative text, and video clips from the PBS Documentary God’s Will. Mr. Campbell donated his papers to USM in 1999, and the exhibit links to the online finding aid. Word also links to the transcript of the Will Campbell oral history.

Born in Amite County, Mississippi in 1924, Will Campbell was ordained as a Baptist minister at the young age of seventeen. Campbell served in WWII and attended Wake Forest, Tulane, and Yale Universities before receiving his first pastorate at a Baptist church in Taylor, Louisiana.

Will’s social activism in regard to racial justice and human rights made him ill suited for the confines of the small-town Southern pulpit, and he left in 1954 to become Director of Religious Life and Chaplain at the University of Mississippi. Again, his views proved too controversial, and he left his post after only two years.

Will proclaimed his “radical Christianity” through civil and human rights movements, religious organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the Committee for Southern Churchmen, sermons, speeches and books. The only white present at the first meeting of Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Will Campbell became a behind-the-scenes operator for the Movement. He could be relied on to show up in a crisis and do what needed to be done, like walking beside black schoolchildren through a mob in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Probably best known for his writing, Campbell’s autobiographical work, Brother to a Dragonfly, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Lillian Smith Prize and the Christopher Award in 1978. He is the author of seventeen works of fiction and non-fiction, including two children’s books.

Campbell’s lectures present themes on the commonness of all mankind and the importance of relationships with God, the land, and one another. His talks sparkle with Southern humor and a distinct voice known to mention rednecks, the evil of institutions, and racial reconciliation.

Sometimes described as a “bootleg” preacher, Will Campbell professes a great love and affection for Country Music. Will was close friends with the late Waylon Jennings, even traveling along on Jenning’s tour bus. Campbell currently resides near the “Country Music Capital of the World” of Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Brenda. They have three children.

Explore original manuscript materials, complete with hand-written notations, from Will Campbell’s books and speeches. Listen and watch Will Campbell discuss his views on life in media clips, and browse photographs from the Will D. Campbell Papers in the virtual exhibit Will D. Campbell: A Man of the Word at

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