CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)
HED:Campbell's 'And Also With You' a story of heroes
By Danny McKenzie
"And Also With You: Duncan Gray and the American Dilemma" is far more than "a book that simply must be read."
It is a book that should be read. And reread. Time and again.
Written by Will D. Campbell and published by Providence House, "And Also With You" is the dual story of Duncan M. Gray Jr., an Episcopal clergyman, and the University Greys, a company of Confederate soldiers from the University of Mississippi.
It is the story of Gray's unwavering stance against bigotry, and it is the story of the Greys' fight to preserve the "way of life" as they saw it during the Civil War South.
"And Also With You" is a book only Campbell could write. Few authors have the insight into the human condition that Campbell, a native of southwest Mississippi, has shown time and again in his works. Even fewer are talented enough to share clearly that insight with their readers.
Just as Gray, who would become the Episcopal bishop of Mississippi and chancellor of the University of the South, fought long and hard against the segregationists during the so-called "Civil Rights Era," so too did Campbell.
As Gray stood against the mob at Ole Miss during the enrollment of James Meredith in 1962, Campbell was among the escorts of the nine black children who walked through the mob at Little Rock Central High five years earlier.
Years later, Campbell would be the only white participant at the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Gray considered Aaron Henry among his good friends. Campbell included Martin Luther King Jr. in his eclectic circle of friends.
Campbell unabashedly refers to Gray as one of his heroes. Gray pays homage to Campbell in equal fashion.
And that, says Campbell, was one of the difficulties in writing "And Also With You."
"I've known Duncan since 1955 and I had to kind of step aside," Campbell said recently. "I didn't want to get too close to my subject, even though we've been good friends for so long and have spent so much time together over the years.
"I had to put a little distance between us while I was working on the book."
Campbell is blunt about his admiration of Gray. "Sure, I'm enamored with this man, but I didn't have to stretch anything to write his story. He is an unusual person."
When discussing Campbell's works, it is easy to focus only on the substance therein. It is just as easy to overlook his style. The content of his work is so powerful that its presentation is often taken for granted. But the man writes in a fashion that begs to be savored.
His passage in "And Also With You" describing Gray's remarks at the funeral of the internationally famous William Faulkner, a private service attended by many giants of literature:
"Wearing a white surplice and holding nothing except his Book of Common Prayer, Duncan Gray stood before that company and solemnly intoned the same words he used for those the world knew not at all. .... As he read, the sprightly song of a mockingbird, its medley of sounds a seeming summation of creation, mixing and melding with stifled sobs and droning of overhead fans stirring the summer air, seemed a fitting and parallel requiem. All things the now silent laureate might have been appropriating for the morrow's tale."
Will Campbell will be signing "And Also With You" from 1-2:30 Friday afternoon at Reed's Gum Tree Book Store in Tupelo, and from 5-6 at Square Books in Oxford.
Few authors with more talent have been or will be at either location.
Danny McKenzie is managing editor for news at the Daily Journal.