In Memory of Jim Campbell

Feb 2, 2021


Early this January 30th, early morning – La’Shea texts: “James Campbell has passed on to be an ancestor. RIP” –
Pam echoes: “… It like a whole library of knowledge is gone …”
Right away, my mind races for a spontaneous eulogy.
Here it is:

Pam, the library you are talking about? Part of it was donated by Jim to the Burke High School Library a few years back. We were at the ceremony, remember?”
This donation by James Campbell of his Library, long before he would pass, gives an accurate sense of what this immense gentleman was all about. So does the donation of his collection of personal research papers to the Avery Center, at the College of Charleston.*
He was an educator, generous of the knowledge he was ceaselessly gathering and dedicating to the cause of the young and future African-American generations – generous also of his time and energy when it was a matter of showing how passion and integrity make for a powerful, kind and unassuming scholar.
In his later years, when he would come to a Charleston Collective conversation and if one of us would introduce him as “Jim Campbell”, he would rectify: “ no, I am what is left of Jim Campbell” – with a large smile and a basso laughter. Then he would proceed: started in theater in Baltimore; moved to teaching in New York City. Came back to Charleston for retirement. Ongoing activity (at the time), member of the human Genome Project at MUSC … because it is a duty to prepare a more ethical future, which he saw as dangerous and traitorous due to a general lack of discernment and analytical skills.
For sure, Jim had his analytics, his dialectics straight and, at every turn, he would display them as the magic wand, to deconstruct the complexities of our world. And he did it well. His audience, every time, was captivated, intaking so much knowledge and positive thinking! Yet, I do not remember Jim advocating for “solutions”. He was not an ideologue. He was a believer in what, in France, we call Popular Education. This strand of knowledge promotion which does not shape proselytes but benevolent philosophers dedicated to access, equity, justice, culture for all. In fact, with his dialectics, Jim was intentionally giving context to such otherwise-vague, open-ended concepts. At least that is what I think I learned from him.

Thank you Jim Campbell. Now I mourn. Jean-Marie Mauclet


James Campbell and Katie Graham at the Charleston City Gallery for “conNECKted: Imaginings for Truth & Reconciliation.” August 2017