It was the middle of the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings. My dearest friend in the world had taken me and some guys to see Will Campbell, in his writing cabin in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. We drove down to Campbell’s favorite barbeque pit, a cement block 12 x 18 building with four tables and no customers. And we talked politics.
“What do you think about the impeachment hearings?” one of the guys asked Campbell.
“Well,” he answered, “Bill Clinton is an immoral man, but it doesn’t have anything to do with getting a blow job in the Oval Office.” He went on to tell us this story of Rickey Ray Rector, an Arkansas man who was executed while Clinton was governor.
Rector’s last meal consisted of fried chicken, steak, and pecan pie. When Rector had finished eating, he set aside a piece of the pie and told the guards that he would like to save it for later. Rector’s obvious inability to comprehend the fact that he was about to be executed unnerved a number of the prison officials.(from The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture)
Will Campbell was always on the side of the underdog. Always an advocate for the poor, the downtrodden, those with no access to power. It was this heart for the poor that helped Campbell recognize and stand up not only for impoverished blacks during the Civil Rights Movement, but also for the impoverished whites who took up arms as the KKK. Campbell saw that they were not different from one another, that they were all held captive by economics, class and race in the same way.
Will Campbell died Monday night. He was 88 years old. When asked what the Gospel is, he famously answered, “We’re all bastards. But God loves us anyway.”
As my good friend, Todd, said, “The world will be a lonelier and harsher place with Brother Will’s passing.”