From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Campbell, William Joseph

(born: 1863  -  died: 1912) William [W. J.] Campbell was a politician, a member and organizer of the Knights of Labor, a delegate and leader of the United Mine Workers of America, and a civil rights leader. The Knights of Labor, a labor organization, was founded as a secret society in Philadelphia, PA, in 1869. According to the organization's website, as of 1881, the Knights of Labor were no longer secret, and by 1886 the membership included 50,000 African American workers and 10,000 women workers.

W. J. Campbell fought for improved race relations in coal towns and for interracial unions. He would become the representative of the Kentucky District of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). W. J. Campbell was born in Morgan County, AL, the son of William Campbell and Bethiah Jones Campbell [source: W. J. Campbell's KY death certificate]. His family was poor; his father died when he was a boy. W. J. Campbell was hired out to a man who allowed him to attend and finish school in Huntsville, AL.

W. J. Campbell became a teacher at the school he had attended. In 1880, he moved to Birmingham, AL, where he studied barbering and would become a barber. In 1881, he left barbering for the coal mines in Pratt City, AL. He became an advocate for the rights of African American miners, and in 1881 was secretary of the newly organized Knights of Labor in Pratt City. A year later, he was organizer-at-large, and established the first Knights of Labor in Birmingham and Montgomery. He established the beginnings of the United Mine Workers and the Federation of Mine Laborers, Division 10, in Chattanooga, TN. The division included Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

W. J. Campbell was also a politician; he was the elected secretary of the Republican Committee of Jefferson County, AL, in 1882 and was also an elected delegate to the Republican State Convention. In 1892, he was an elected delegate-at-large to the Republican National Convention for Alabama. W. J. Campbell got married in 1889 and left Alabama in 1894 to settle in Central City, KY. Campbell was a miner and a barber, and his wife was a teacher at the Colored common school. Campbell organized Republican national league clubs for African Americans and whites. He was a delegate to the National Republican League Convention, and in 1901 was a member of the Republican State Campaign Committee.

In 1898, Campbell drafted the Miners' Pay Bill of Kentucky that was passed by the Kentucky Legislature; it replaced the two weeks pay bill that had failed. In 1900, Campbell was a delegate to the National United Mine Workers of America [UMWA]. The UMWA was founded in Columbus, OH, in 1890, resulting from the merger of the Knights of Labor Trade Assembly No. 135 and the National Progressive Union of Miners and Mine Laborers. The constitution of the UMWA barred discrimination based on race, religion, and national origin. In 1901, Campbell became the secretary-treasurer of UMWA District 23 and is said to be the first African American at the post within the UMWA.

W. J. Campbell came to Lexington, KY in July of 1901 to settle a matter with W. D. Johnson, editor of The Standard newspaper. In 1904, Campbell was a member of the executive office of the UMWA, serving as a cabinet officer of John Mitchell. He was also president of Afro American National Protective Union, which sought to organize a National Labor Union. In 1912, Campbell would serve as president of the National Negroes' Industrial and Protective Union of America.

William J. Campbell was the husband of Sallie L. Waddleton of South Carolina, and the couple last lived in Drakesboro, KY. Campbell was a Mason, a member of the Odd Fellows, and a member of the A.M.E.Z. Church. He died November 28, 1912, and is buried in Smith Chapel Cemetery in Drakesboro, KY [source: Kentucky Death Certificate].

For more see Knights of Labor in Alabama (KOL) at the Encyclopedia of Alabama website; the "About" page at the WMWA website; The Challenge of Interracial Unionism, by D. Letwin; "W. J. Campbell...," Freeman, 01/24/1903, p. 4; "Birmingham: Victory won by the Warrior [AL] miners," Huntsville Gazette, 09/13/1884, p. 3; "Mr. W. J. Campbell," Huntsville Gazette, 02/13/1886, p. 2; "Mr. W. J. Campbell" in the Personals column of the Freeman, 01/20/1900, p. 8; "W. J. Campbell of Central City, Ky...," Freeman, 07/20/1901, p. 4; "W. J. Campbell," Freeman, 02/08/1902, p. 8; picture of W. J. Campbell on p. 1, biography on p. 4 of the Freeman, 03/01/1902; "Important Points great events in the suburban districts," Freeman, 03/01/1902, p. 4; "Mr. W. J. Campbell, miner," Freeman, 04/23/1904, p. 4; and "National Negroes' Industrial and Protective Union of America," Freeman, 01/27/1912, p. 6.

Kentucky County & Region

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Read about Drakesboro, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

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“Campbell, William Joseph,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 24, 2024,

Last modified: 2017-12-07 00:46:39