Born in 1924, Campbell decided at an early age to become a Southern Baptist minister. In his young adulthood, his ministerial orientation began to be shaped by a commitment to social activism, his first interests being in the labor movement. Most of Campbell's efforts, however, were devoted to the civil rights movement and to improving race relations. By 1963, Campbell, while retaining progressive concerns, became disillusioned with traditional approaches to ministry and social activism, especially in the field of race relations. Consequently, his later social activism and religious activity occurred outside conventional structures. Campbell then engaged in social activism on an individual basis without the support of a major organization.