Ernest Q. Campbell, Sociologist, 1926-2013.


I don’t know how I missed this, but my old colleague Ernie Campbell died on July 28, 2013. I may have seen something about this in a flurry of activity, but I totally forgot if I did, until my dear friend Kim Green posted a memorium page from the Nashville Scene. There aren’t many people at Vanderbilt that I connect with very often, and I think there are only two or three current faculty who overlapped with Ernie. Ernie was somewhat on his way out when I was on my way in.  But, I know that he played a pivotal role in me being offered the job. Alan Kerckhoff, who was a young professor at Vanderbilt when Ernie got his PhD, had contacted Ernie (as had Ida Harper Simpson), and Earnie smoothed the way for me to be the “last” hire in a spree that brought in five assistant professors in two years. I don’t think I met him on my interview because he had a serious health issue not long before I interviewed. Indeed, some talked about him as being unlikely to survive. Instead, he won many master’s tennis titles for nearly two decades after that (maybe more than two decades, I’ll have to look up his results). But, Ernie did retire from producing scholarship, and we had many long conversations in the three years that we overlapped.

Ernie was a true scholar and a Southern gentleman who renounced the noxious parochialism of Southern white Christianity and dedicated himself to improving the South, and fighting for civil rights for African Americans. But, while Ernie hosted parties in Chapel Hill for Martin Luther King Jr, his scholarship wasn’t “activist” in orientation. He was a social scientist who worked his way up and became one of the most distinguished, if not the most distinguished, Vanderbilt PhD alumnus. His work on the Coleman Report solidified his stature as a serious intellectual willing to put science before ideology, even in the face of political pressure. Ernie made many contributions to sociology, and was president of the Southern Sociological Society, and a deserving member of the Roll of Honor at SSS.

I always liked Ernie and we got along quite well on many occasions. He had a longstanding interest in my work on religion, and if it wasn’t for his uncertainty about his health, we probably would have written a couple of papers together. I remember when he was cleaning out his office one day (something that took a few months), and he brought in a couple of boxes of original interviews and data card from a study he’d done on parent-child socialization back in the mid 1960s. It was some unique stuff, with several fairly sophisticated measures of religion (Ernie was from rural Georgia…..). But,  I couldn’t take the time to reenter that shit into data, and by 1994 or so, finding an old school IBM card reader was not an option at Vanderbilt.

Ernie had a great run and I know he spent the last decade or so of his life devoted to his many passions, community organizing and development, gardening, and especially tennis. I wish I would have at least let him kick my ass a few times, but I don’t even know how to play. It would have been embarrassing and no fun for either of us. He never stopped asking, though….”Tennis, anyone?”

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