HIGH POINT — Civil rights pioneer Al Campbell, who advocated for racial equality in the 1960s and later became a councilman and mayor pro tem, died Friday at the age of 85.
Campbell was among the first Black firefighters to join the High Point Fire Department more than 50 years ago as the pillars of segregation began to crumble locally and across the South. Campbell served as a firefighter from 1963-71 and later as a Guilford County magistrate in the 1990s.
Campbell was elected to the High Point City Council in 1999, becoming one of the few Black candidates in history to win a race for a citywide, at-large seat. His fellow councilmembers named him mayor pro tem for two years.
His roles as a councilman, firefighter and magistrate reflected the change he and other advocates for racial justice brought about through demonstrations and activism in the 1960s. Campbell served as a president of the local branch of the NAACP and chairman of the High Point Human Relations Council.
Campbell’s life reflected a commitment to social justice and public service, said Guilford County Commissioner Carlvena Foster of High Point.
“Al was one who was not afraid to speak out on the issues,” said Foster, who was a longtime friend of Campbell.
When he became an elected official, Campbell built relationships across a cross-section of the community to get results, Foster told The High Point Enterprise. Campbell served four years on the council.
“People respected him and knew where he was coming from,” she said.
Campbell set an example for Foster and other leaders in the Black community to run for elected office. One result of his legacy — 20 years after he was elected to High Point City Council, four Black candidates for the council were elected at the same time for the first time ever in last year’s municipal election.
“He was a great inspiration,” Foster said.
Campbell was a U.S. Army veteran and was stationed in what was then known as West Germany as part of an American military contingent during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
“I spent 18 months in Germany belonging to what was called the NATO shield,” Campbell recalled during a High Point University oral history interview five years ago. “That shield was supposed to be the delaying element in the event there was a communist uprising in Germany. We were there to die in delaying the communist aggression until backup troops could get there.”
High Point Fire Department Chief Tommy Reid said Campbell was a pioneer in diversifying frontline emergency workers.
Campbell and other early Black firefighters “paved the way for a lot of other folks to follow in their footsteps,” Reid told The Enterprise.
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