One of the most important tasks that I think any American political leader needs to be able to do is to bridge the divide between the working class white communities that support Donald Trump and the minority communities that are threatened by Trump. I believe it is possible to reach out to help the struggling white communities in economic distress while still defending minority communities from racism and xenophobia. History gives examples of individuals who were able to appeal to both working class white and minority communities: Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Kennedys, Jesse Jackson. A white Baptist preacher named Will D. Campbell was one figure who was able to reach out to both minority and poor white communities.
Will Campbell was one of three men who shepherded the Little Rock Nine students through an angry white mob before the National Guard was federalized. He was the only white man at the founding of Southern Christian Leadership Conference and he was a friend and confidant of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, John Lewis and others. Campbell worked as a strategist and negotiator at every major civil rights campaign of the movement. In 1963, when four young black girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., Rev. Campbell came to comfort their families.
While Campbell worked in the civil rights movement, he also reached out to the segregationist whites. He visited James Earl Ray, King’s assassin, in prison, and he also ministered to a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon in jail. Campbell spoke out for economic justice for struggling poor white communities in the South.
Campbell began reaching out to white communities at the suggestion of his friend Stokely Carmichael. Carmichael advised white allies in the struggle for black equality to go to white communities and have the conversations on race that these people may be too uncomfortable to have with black individuals.