Monday, April 27, 2015

Robert F. Campbell Papers and Exhibit

Introduction: Montana Eck worked in Special Collections this semester as an intern from the UNC Asheville Department of History. Over the course of the semester he processed and created a new finding aid for the Robert F. Campbell Collection.  Montana created an excellent, informative exhibit based on Campbell's life that is on display outside of Special Collections in Ramsey Library. He also wrote the following summary of Campbell's life and career. Thanks to Montana's work, the Robert F. Campbell Papers are now available for research in Special Collections.

Montana Eck and his exhibit of materials from the Robert Campbell Papers

A brief history of Robert F. Campbell and his work, drawn from materials in the Robert Campbell Papers in UNC Asheville's Special Collections

By Montana Eck

Robert F. Campbell
Reverend Robert Fishburne Campbell was officially welcomed as minister of First Presbyterian Church of Asheville in 1892,  would go on to serve as a prominent social reformer and beloved pastor in Western North Carolina for forty-six years until his retirement in 1938. Born in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1858,  Campbell was a graduate of Washington and Lee University who found his true calling in the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. 
First Presbyterian Church in 1899.

Campbell expeditiously rose to prominence, not only in Asheville, but in the national Presbyterian community as well, quickly cementing his legacy in the region with his help in the founding of the Appalachia Synod.  Dr. Campbell’s charity work in Western North Carolina, including the completion of the Mountain Orphanage in Black Mountain in 1904, gained the reverend respect and recognition across the country.

Along with his charitable work, Campbell was a very prominent, even if sometimes controversial, author of social issues in the South. Campbell’s published works include pamphlets on animal cruelty and race relations, both of which were very touchy topics for a Presbyterian minister in early 20th century North Carolina. Campbell’s pamphlets, “The Race Problem in the South,” “The Use and Abuse of Animals,” and “Sunday Laws and Liberty” gained national recognition and praise. 

Aside from his work in the social realm, Campbell became a prominent advocate for keeping the Sabbath day holy as he not only spoke against the operation of businesses on Sunday but also the prominence of recreational sports, such as baseball, on the Lord’s Day. Dr. Campbell, a prominent spokesman for change in North Carolina, has cemented a lasting legacy in Asheville and across the south for his charity work and enthusiasm for doing what is right, something that still appeals to the populace of Asheville to this day.

Letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt seeking Reverend Campbell's counsel.

            Dr. Campbell, the former neighbor of Robert E Lee; is an interesting character when considering his role in the advancement of racial equality in the south following the Civil War and Reconstruction. As can often be inferred by his writing, Dr. Campbell did not necessarily believe in the equality of the two races but rather believed that the Christian and moral thing to do was to repay African Americans for the horrors of slavery through religion and education. Campbell firmly believed that education could be inspired through the church and in his published pamphlet titled “Some Aspects of the Race Problem in the South”, Dr. Campbell explains that the Presbyterian Church is best equipped to not only educate African Americans but they are also well equipped to help establish a “home life in which the children will be instructed in the world of God and in the faith of the church.” In short, Campbell believed that through his work with the Presbyterian Church, Appalachia Synod and Home Missions, they could create a more accepting society and one that had a love for God. His preconceived notions of the “emotions” of the entire African American race are biased and judgmental but as can be seen through the hundreds of letters Campbell amassed through the years, his heart was genuine with the hope of correcting the horrors of slavery with the word of God.

            Overall, Dr. Campbell was a very important figure in the Asheville community during a time of social change, pandemic and war but most importantly Reverend Campbell was a citizen of this area. Dr. Campbell cared deeply about his fellow citizens and he was able to share his message of kindness and compassion through the word of God and through his church. Dr. Campbell was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even if it meant going against the traditional beliefs of his congregation. The fair treatment of animals, repercussions for slavery, and even his approval for the sale of alcohol were radical for any white man in North Carolina in the early 20th century, much less a Presbyterian minister. In many ways, Dr. Campbell was the perfect illustration of the Asheville citizen, very steadfast in his beliefs but strong-willed enough to go against the status-quo and do what he believed to be right.