Campbell College, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) junior college, educated black college and high school students in Mississippi between 1890 and 1964. Campbell first opened in Vicksburg but moved to Jackson in 1899 in hopes of attracting more students. During the civil rights era, students at Campbell participated in direct action protests in Jackson and supported activists at nearby high schools and colleges. When the state seized Campbell and closed the school, Campbell’s physical plant became part of Jackson State College (now Jackson State University).
Throughout its existence, Campbell’s enrollment remained low, and the school suffered from chronic financial problems. The AME Church had established Wilberforce University (Wilberforce, Ohio) in 1856 and Allen University (Columbia, South Carolina), Morris Brown College (Atlanta), Paul Quinn College (Waco, Texas), and Edward Waters College (Jacksonville, Florida) after the Civil War, but Campbell struggled to replicate the stability of these colleges. Enrollment at Campbell never came close to the enrollment at the AME’s senior colleges, and even other AME junior colleges such as Daniel Payne College (Birmingham, Alabama), Shorter College (Little Rock, Arkansas), and Kittrell College (Kittrell, North Carolina) had far more students than did Campbell.
During the Great Depression, the funding crisis at Campbell grew desperate. In 1933 the AME Church reported to the Journal of Negro Education that donations had slowed considerably, imperiling the church’s educational fund. Campbell, younger and smaller than the other AME schools, hardly possessed the endowment or resources to insulate itself from problems in church funding. Though Campbell survived the depression, enrollment hovered at around fifty throughout the 1940s. By 1960, Campbell enrolled forty high school students and seventy-five college students.
Despite its small size, Campbell played an important role in Jackson’s civil rights movement. As an AME school, Campbell did not rely on state money and could therefore openly support the civil rights movement without jeopardizing funding. Campbell students not only participated in demonstrations and protests but also served as supporters and ambassadors of the movement. In October 1961, after students had staged a walkout at Burgland High School to show solidarity with participants in a sit-in in McComb, Campbell attracted the ire of white officials when it allowed students boycotting Burgland to enroll.
In 1961 the State of Mississippi seized the college via eminent domain. Though neighboring Jackson State had long considered purchasing Campbell’s land and ultimately erected a new building on the old Campbell site, veterans of the McComb movement, most notably Hollis Watkins, believed that the state had seized Campbell in retaliation for the college’s role in the Burgland High boycott. By 1964 Campbell’s last students had graduated, and the college died a martyr to Mississippi’s civil rights movement.
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1994)
- Sherman L. Greene Jr., Journal of Negro Education (Summer 1960)
- Journal of Negro Education (January 1933)
- Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1995)
- Lelia Gaston Rhodes, Jackson State University: The First Hundred Years, 1877–1977 (1979)