- Category: Volume 88 (Fall 2016 - Spring 2017)
- Published: 04 November 2016
- Written by JALIZE CANELA | CONTRIBUTING WRITER
On May 20 2008, Monmouth University gave an honorary degree of Public Service to Olympic champion and humanitarian Milt Campbell, the only university to do so.
Yesterday, Nov. 2, the anniversary of Campbells passing. He was the first African American to become an Olympic decathlon champion, who used his athletic fame to help deconstruct the negative ideologies associated with the black community. He also created more opportunities for individuals who live in underprivileged areas.
Biology professor Dr. James Mack nominated Milt for the Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa, which he received on May 20, 2008 from the University. Monmouth became the only University to give Milt Campbell an honorary degree in acknowledgment for his humanitarian efforts and his world class athletic achievements.
Paul G. Gaffney II, the University’s former President recalled the award ceremony. He said, “It was an honor to have Olympian and New Jersey resident Milt Campbell with us before a big and happy audience. Milt was not recognized enough in his life so it was particularly rewarding that Professor Mack brought him to our commencement.”
Mack said, “It was an honor to have known Milt as a friend, humanitarian and world-class athlete. It was a privilege to speak at Milt Campbell’s memorial service, at the request of the Campbell family, celebrated in Plainfield on August 10, 2013.”
According to an article by The New York Times, Campbell won the gold medal, set an Olympic record of 7,937 points for 10 events, and won the silver medal in the Olympics as a junior at Plainfield High School, just four years earlier. He was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989 and the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992.
The article also stated thatCampbell’s athletic successes have lead many to view him as one of America’s greatest athletes; however, after winning the decathlon during the 1956 Summer Olympics, he found that his achievements had gone unnoticed whereas his Caucasian competitors were put on a variety of social platforms, said the article.
“Campbell sometimes expressed frustration that he was less well known than the four other Americans who became Olympic decathlon champions from 1948 to 1976: Bob Mathias, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey and Bruce Jenner,” read the New York Times article.
Milt’s football career continued in Canada, where he played professional football with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts until 1964.
Campbell left Canada in 1967 and returned to Plainfield, NJ when he received news about the race riots that were occurring in Newark, NJ. The six day riots concluded with 26 deaths and hundreds injured. Events leading up to the riots primarily consisted of individuals of the black community becoming infuriated with police brutality, racial profiling, and the lack of opportunities for education and employment.
According to a Rutgers University study, African Americans began to feel powerless and disenfranchised. Tension within the community grew overtime, unemployment and poverty rates were extremely high, and black leaders were upset with the fact that the Newark Police Department was mainly comprised of white officers.
Campbell decided to become active within the community and worked tirelessly towards alleviating tension through education. From 1968 to 1976 he became a Co-Founder and Fundraiser for the Chad School in Newark. He also visited local high schools, such as Plainfield High School, to help boost the self-esteem of students and remind them of the significance they hold and the changes they can make.
Mack and Tim McLoone, a local businessman, restauranteur and founder of the non-profit Holiday Express, also nominated Campbell for induction to the NJ Hall of Fame, which he was soon inducted into on June 9, 2012 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
Criminal Justice student Taylor Mitchell said, “I think it’s very admirable when well-known individuals use their social platform to advocate for socioeconomic and racial issues that may not receive enough attention on their own. Milt Campbell was a great athlete, and an even better person.”