Clarice T. Campbell, a self-described “outside agitator” from California, promoted civil rights while teaching at black colleges in Mississippi and South Carolina. Born in 1907 in Los Angeles, Campbell attended the University of Southern California in 1925–26 before interrupting her college education to become a wife and mother. She spent her early adulthood raising four children and working as a bookkeeper. Returning to college, she earned her undergraduate degree at the age of forty-five. She spent ten years as a schoolteacher in Pasadena, where she initiated efforts to end the busing of white students to predominantly white schools. She came to the South to take summer courses at the University of Mississippi in 1956 and the University of Alabama in 1957.
When her husband, Harold, died in 1959, Campbell took a leave of absence from the Pasadena City Schools and volunteered to teach in exchange for room and board at Rust College, a historically black Methodist-affiliated school in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Campbell, a devout Methodist, remained at Rust throughout the 1960–61 school year. She found life as the only white person on the campus of the badly underfunded school to be a challenge. Administrators resisted even such minor improvements as a ping-pong table that Campbell purchased for student recreation. The students, products of a Jim Crow educational system, were underprepared for the academic rigors of higher education. In addition, the local white community resisted her outspoken opposition to segregated restrooms, restaurants, churches, and drinking fountains. During the 1961–62 school year, Campbell taught at Claflin College in South Carolina and joined the board of directors of the Southern Conference Educational Fund, an organization that promoted school integration.
At the end of the 1963 school year, Campbell planned to join the Peace Corps to work overseas, but the murder of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People field secretary Medgar Evers in Jackson prompted her to change her mind. Instead, she moved to Mississippi to teach at historically black Tougaloo College, where she remained until 1965. During this time, Campbell worked to desegregate motels, restaurants, and churches, including her own Galloway Methodist Church. She attempted, without success, to pressure national organizations such as churches and oil companies to force their local branches to integrate. Campbell described teaching at Tougaloo as working just behind the front lines since students frequently missed classes to testify in court or serve time in jail. Passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought substantial improvements, but Campbell ended her lifelong affiliation with the Republican Party in 1968 over its civil rights stance.
Campbell believed her integrationist activities demonstrated that nothing terrible happened to anyone who stepped over the color line. Her frequently humorous letters to family and friends about life in the South during the early 1960s appeared in Civil Rights Chronicle: Letters from the South.
Mississippi captured Campbell’s heart for reasons that she found herself unable to explain. In 1965 she began work on a doctorate in history at the University of Mississippi, earning the degree five years later with a dissertation on the history of Tougaloo. She then returned to Rust to teach and serve as the chair of the history department. After retiring in 1978, she taught part time at Mississippi Industrial College, a private liberal arts school across the street from Rust. Campbell died in 2000.
- Clarice T. Campbell, Civil Rights Chronicle: Letters from the South (1997)
- Clarice T. Campbell Papers, Tougaloo Civil Rights Archive, Brown University
- Clarice T. Campbell and Oscar Allen Rogers Jr., Mississippi: The View from Tougaloo (1979)