Updated: Feb 27
On Christmas Eve in 1951, the Ku Klux Klan in Mims, Florida took a torch to the home of NAACP activists Harry and Harriette Moore. The house burned to the ground, killing the Moores and sending a chilling message to the rest of the town’s Black residents. Among those residents were the parents of Melanie Campbell. A Washington Post profile of Campbell explains that one of Melanie’s earliest memories is huddling on the floor with her mother and sisters while her father and other men kept watch outside, on guard against another Klan attack.
When you grow up in a climate of hostility, the constant barrage of hateful messages is meant to keep you in a state of fear and submission. Sometimes the strategy works. Sometimes it backfires. For Melanie Campbell, it probably did both.
Campbell’s parents were active in the NAACP, which made the family a common target for intimidation. In the 1950s, momentum in the civil rights movement was growing, empowering the Black community to claim their rights despite the fear. Raised in a home where silence was unthinkable, Campbell was always encouraged to be an activist. She graduated from Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black college with the motto “I’ll find a way or make one,” and took a corporate job to become financially settled. But in the 1970s, she found herself called to do more and soon took a job with Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor. While running his office of youth services, she hired an outspoken woman who publically questioned whether Jackson really understood the frustrations of the city’s younger population. Her name was Stacy Abrams. Abrams would be just one of many women Campbell would mentor in her long career as a change maker.
Campbell continued to advance her activist career and in the mid-1990s, she moved to Washington to work for the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Campbell’s role grew as she sharpened her organizational skills. She became the Coalition’s executive director in 2000 and CEO in 2011. In her work, she is always looking for opportunities to give other Black women a chance to shine. In the Washington Post interview, she noted, “My mission in life is to do my part, but also to lift others along the way, (to) make sure Black women are not invisible.”
Her collaborators often praise her willingness to mentor and elevate. She’s credited with helping Black women activists reach Alabama voters in order to assure Democrat Doug Jones’ defeat Republican Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Jones’ victory loosened the grip the Republican Party held in the deep red state.
Campbell’s focus is on mobilizing Black voters in Southern states, encouraging them to make their voices heard. She’s also used the resources of the Coalition to help restore a felon’s right to vote in Florida. For Black women looking for opportunities to bring about change, Campbell serves as a beacon.
Campbell has served as an advisor to U.S. Presidents, congressional leaders, non-profits, corporations and labor organizations on a wide array of issues that impact Black Americans. She also regularly participates in the Black Women’s Roundtable, a leadership development and empowerment program for Black women. Now in her seventies, it seems clear that the Klan’s early attempt to suppress Campbell’s voice was a complete failure.
To learn more about Melanie Campbell, we recommend The Washington Post’s profile Melanie Campbell on the Fight to Defend Black Votes