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COURTESY YALE UNIVERSITY

The steeple dropout

Will Campbell, 1924–2013

I had never heard of Will Campbell until the day I walked into a bookstore and saw a brand-new novel called The Glad River, written by a Baptist preacher whom the dust jacket described as a “steeple dropout” and veteran civil rights activist.

I was a student pastor of a small rural Texas Baptist church. While I didn’t know it yet, it was a good church. But at the time the church and I were in turmoil over the issue of race. At one point I had a shotgun pulled on me with the threat to blow my “nigger-loving head off”; in the year ahead I would have a man come after me in a congregational meeting to “whip the pastor’s ass because I’m tired of his preaching on race.”

After reading the dust jacket I didn’t hesitate; I bought the book. I read The Glad River in three days and then cried for another three.

 

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