Alexander Boyd Campbell was born in Winona, Mississippi, on 10 September 1889 to William Alexander Campbell and Carrie Boyd Campbell. The Campbell family moved to a small farm in Hesterville, in Attala County, while Boyd was still a boy. There, the man who made his career and fortune catering to the needs of Mississippi’s schoolchildren was educated in a one-room, one-teacher, cypress-log schoolhouse and began attending Bethel Methodist Church, another institution that remained dear to him throughout his adult life.
After graduating from high school in Kosciusko, Campbell attended Millsaps
College, a Methodist school in Jackson, where he joined Kappa Alpha fraternity, helped found the student newspaper, and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1910. For most of his adult life, Campbell served as treasurer for the Millsaps board of trustees, the highest position laymen could attain. In 1963 the board of trustees renamed the student union the A. Boyd Campbell Student Center in his honor.
Campbell’s position as treasurer of the Millsaps board gave him the idea that would make him a very successful businessman. After noting that Mississippi’s public schools had no provider of school supplies, Campbell and his neighbor, Carl White, a school supply representative, started the Mississippi School Supply Company. According to Boyd Campbell’s nephew, James Campbell, “Boyd Campbell had only one son—the Mississippi School Supply Company, and that is the way it should have been. He sired it. He nurtured it in its infancy. He brought it to maturity and to greatness as a business institution.” The company opened as a one-room shop on East Capitol Street in Jackson in 1919.
Campbell’s business acumen earned him numerous appointments in civic organizations. In addition to helping found the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, he served as president of the Jackson Rotary Club, the Official Board of the Galloway
Memorial Church, the Andrew Jackson Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the National School Service Institute, and the Jackson Chamber of Commerce. He was a director of the First National Bank, the Mississippi Power and Light Company, and the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad. He was a trustee of Emory University, a member of the Commission on Goals for Higher Education in the South, and a perennial chair of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Committee on Education. The pinnacle of his civic achievements came in 1955, when he was elected to the first of his two consecutive terms as president of the US Chamber of Commerce. He was the first Mississippian elected to the Chamber’s board of directors or to preside over it.
Campbell’s personal motto was “Free enterprise is a stewardship,” by which he meant “stewardship of business, the handling of individual and organized business affairs as private service for the public good.” For a man making his livelihood in educational supplies during the 1950s in Jim Crow Mississippi, stewardship was a complicated matter. Whatever his personal racial views, Campbell believed that segregation was bad for business and thus bad for Mississippians. In 1956 education scholar Preston Valien noted, “A. Boyd Campbell of Mississippi, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has also expressed the belief that racial tension could result in a slow-down in the industrial development of the South.” Campbell died in 1963.
- James Boyd Campbell, For the Public Good: The Story of Boyd Campbell and the Mississippi School Supply Company (1963)
- Preston Valien, Journal of Negro Education (Summer 1956)