As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King this week, it brings to mind a little known young black man who took to the hardwood courts of Spokane decades before Dr. King and the fight for civil rights began in earnest.
It was 1926, and overt racism and lynchings were still commonplace. The Klu Klux Klan even had a strong presence in Washington in the 1920s, with rallies numbering in the tens of thousands on the west side of the state.
Pierce “Buck” Campbell was a senior that year at Lewis and Clark High School. Looking at the LC yearbook, Campbell appears to be the only black member of his class.
Buck was a superb athlete. He was a member of Squinty Hunter’s league champion basketball team that year. As the only black player in the newly formed Spokane City League, you can be sure he heard negative comments from the stands, and probably on the court as well, in the years he played for the Tigers.
In an era of low scoring games, he was the league’s top scorer with 70 points in 8 games, an 8.8 average, more than two points per game better than the runner-up. When the very first all-league selections were made, Campbell proved he had earned the respect of opposing coaches and players by being named captain of the first team, the equivalent of today’s most valuable player.
His honors continued as Lewis and Clark won the state championship in Seattle where he was named to the all-state squad along with teammate, Harvey Nelson.
His athletic success carried over into track and field, where once again he was selected for the all-league team. He won the state javelin title with a throw of 186 feet.
After graduation, he played rec league ball in the city for a time, and was one of the first blacks to play in the Spokane Baseball League. He attended Spokane and Delaney Colleges and then moved to California to pursue a career as an electronic engineer. For a time he worked in that capacity for NBC TV, including with the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.
After retiring in 1971, he returned to Spokane. In the summer of 1989, a few weeks before his death, he was honored by the NW Black Pioneers Centennial Committee in a gala at the Ridpath Hotel. Buck Campbell indeed was a true Spokane pioneer in civil rights, well before the national movement began.