President Kate Morris stands behind a podium under a white tent and next to the "Jeffrey Campbell House" dedication plaque.

Jeffrey Campbell House Dedication Remarks

Good Afternoon and welcome. For those who do not know me, my name is Kate Morris, and I am honored to serve as St. Lawrence University’s President, a post I have held for exactly 77 days. Indeed, because I am new in my tenure at St. Lawrence, it is a special honor to be here today for this meaningful dedication program, wherein we are dedicating the home of the Vice President and Dean of Student Life in honor of Jeffrey Campbell.

The Reverend Jeffrey Worthington Campbell was a Unitarian Universalist minister, essayist, and poet. He was the first African American to graduate from St. Lawrence University in 1933 and to be ordained as a Universalist minister by the St. Lawrence School of Theology in 1935.

While at St. Lawrence, Jeffrey was an engaged student leader, active in a number of different ways, including:

  • A member of the Hill News editorial board
  • A member of the Men’s Debate Club
  • A singer with the Men’s Glee Club
  • A student leader—the Thelmo president
  • And an honored academic as a member of the journalism fraternity Pi Delta Epsilon

By many accounts, Campbell enjoyed his time at St. Lawrence. He wrote:

From start to finish the six years of close fellowship which I knew with the faculty and students of that Theological School has been one of the richest I have known in an experience abundantly blessed with such fellowships. Every opportunity or advantage which the school could make available to any of its students was placed at my disposal. Undergraduates from the South who had stated that the day I entered the building they must leave for good remained to become friends whose esteem I hope to merit to my dying day.

When you read Campbell’s reflection on his time at St. Lawrence, you can tell it was not always easy for him. Indeed, life was not always easy for Jeffrey.

Jeffrey’s mother was white and his father was black. He was born in Boston, where Jeffrey and his family endured racial violence.  Tragically, his father, Jeffrey Sr., was killed in a racially motivated attack when Jeffrey was only 12 years old. Even in the face of such horror, Jeffrey somehow managed to remain optimistic and persisted onward in the face of conflict.

Even after his time at St. Lawrence, Campbell faced racial discrimination. Notably, although ordained as a minister in 1935, he was never allowed to lead a congregation. He did not let this stop him. Jeffrey organized student protests of WWII. He ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1938. In 1939, he left the US and moved to the UK where he lived for more than a decade. When he returned to the US, he took a job as a teacher at the Putney School in Vermont, where he spent the remainder of his career, nearly 30 years, teaching English and Theater.

St. Lawrence is honored that Campbell’s granddaughter, Ariel Lash, is also a St. Lawrence graduate, a member of the class of 2011.  We are sorry she is not able to join us for today’s dedication.

If you would like to learn more about Reverend Jeffrey Campbell’s story, I encourage you to watch the video of the talk we hosted on Thursday evening about his life. St. Lawrence alumnus, Dr. Steve Peraza,’06 an assistant professor of history at Buffalo State College, offered an engaging, informative, and thought-provoking lecture about Jeffrey Campbell’s life. If you missed it the other night, it is well worth your time.

I hope this short summary of Campbell’s life gives you a sense of the man we are honoring, in perpetuity, by dedicating this home in his honor.

Before I turn the podium over to the next speaker, I want to acknowledge that the origin of this dedication belongs to the students and alumni who came together to form the Black Laurentian Initiative to promote racial equity and justice. I am grateful to them, and to former President Fox and the University Trustees, for identifying the Campbell House as a physical manifestation of the institution’s commitment to BIPOC people. While the decision to dedicate this home in Campbell’s honor predates my arrival on campus, I am truly honored to be here today for this dedication. Indeed, for my first campus dedication to be one that promotes a more just and equitable world is profoundly meaningful to me, personally and professionally.

With that, let me introduce our next speaker. I am delighted to introduce Diamond McAllister (’22), the President of the Black Laurentian Initiative who will speak about the Black Laurentian Initiative (BLI) and its vision/mission, and the significance of the Campbell House dedication to BLI and to our campus.

Kathryn A. Morris, St. Lawrence University President
Saturday, September 25, 2021
Jeffrey Campbell House, 16 Hillside Road