Conversations with Will D. Campbell

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In a collection of interviews, Conversations with Will D. Campbell, University Press of Mississippi brings us an irascible and irreverent character saying what he thinks exactly like he thinks it in twelve interviews from 1971 to 2009. He denies, not all that forcibly it seems to me, that he is the model for Rev. Will B. Dunn in Kudzu, the daily comic strip by Doug Marlette. He proves his point by noting that Rev. Dunn whittles with a big barrow knife while he uses a penknife and chews Red Mad tobacco to his Beechnut. 

Consistently in the interviews, Will feels free to answer with “I don’t know,” and when asked if he would like to speculate, follows with “No.” That works out all right since there are plenty of points on which he has definite opinions. Often, he ends his comment to the interviewer with,  “I forgot your question, but here is your answer.” He criticizes institutional churches, calling them “steeples” and stands for civil rights for blacks, whites, gays, and women, and adamantly supports school desegregation. 

Will’s take in the aftermath of the Emmett Till trial concluded, “Those people were nobodies after that. They were disgraced, which is a strange conflict and dichotomy in southern society that while they were accused of this crime, we have to rally to their defense and take up money, and hire lawyers and all the rest. But then when it’s over, look, why did you have to disgrace us like that, now get out of town, we don’t really want to see you again.” In a different interview, he says, “You either believe all people are equal or you don’t. If you don’t, then you are racist.” 

As one would expect with the variety of interviews, he tells some stories more than once. The most personal and free-ranging interview is the last, maybe the most interesting as well. He talks with two friends who call their conversation a cross between an interview and an oral history. 

In the introduction to his interview, Bill McNabb says, “Will is weird – a good kind of weird, but weird, nonetheless. He’s ornery.” Another description claims he is a guy who marches with the KKK and loves MLK. He denies working with the KKK, but says he does their weddings and funerals. 

Like Will himself, the book is interesting and will probably have you saying, “Amen” one minute and feeling the hackles rise on your neck the next.