Will D. Campbell was a Southern Baptist minister who was a prominent figure in the fight for desegregation in the Civil Rights era. Brother to a Dragonfly was published in 1977 by The Seabury Press. Totaling 268 pages, this work is best classified as a memoir of Campbell’s life during his most prominent years in as an activist with anecdotes of his upbringing in rural Mississippi sprinkled throughout the story.
Will Campbell. Southern Baptist Minister. Civil Rights Activist. Brother. (southernspaces.com)
Campbell’s story is overwhelmingly impressive. He was staunch civil rights activist with a long track record of success. He accompanied the Freedom Riders. He escorted students into the South’s first integrated school in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was personally invited by Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at the 1957 Southern Christian Leadership Conference where he was the only white speaker. His renegade style of ministry made him enemies aplenty but friends in abundance. But despite all of this, the focus of his memoir is not on his civil rights accomplishments but on the life and struggles of his older brother, Joe.
"We're all bastards but God loves us anyway."-Will D. Campbell
Rev. Campbell meets with Rev. Ralph Abernathy after the assignation of Martin Luther King Jr. (Time.com)
It is not really the setting or the civil rights content that makes Brother to a Dragonfly feel Southern. It is the close relationship that Will and Joe share with each other. From the beginning of the work, it is apparent that the brothers are brought together by the struggles of growing up in rural Mississippi during the Great Depression. Joe protects Will from the hardships of rural living and encourages to pursue his dreams of going into the ministry. As the boys grow up, the roles reverse, and Will is left to take care of Joe, who struggles with his own personal demons. The overwhelming sense fraternal loyalty, remembrance of their tough upbringing, and dedication to one another makes this book feel Southern. Campbell’s inextricable link to his Southern roots and to his brother always bring his thoughts back to the South and the lessons that he learned there.