Brother to a Dragonfly
Goodreads ratings
4.3 / 5

"Brother to a Dragonfly" Summary

By Will D. Campbell

memoir | 268 pages | Published in NaN


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A white minister's journey through the segregated South and his relationship with his brother.


"Brother to a Dragonfly" by Will D. Campbell is a poignant memoir that delves into the author's experiences growing up in the American South during a time of deep racial tensions. The book provides a unique perspective on the civil rights movement and the complexities of human relationships in the face of adversity. Through Campbell's introspective narrative, readers are offered a profound exploration of faith, race, and the human condition.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The memoir is set against the backdrop of the American South in the mid-20th century, a time marked by segregation, racial prejudice, and social upheaval. Will Campbell recounts his upbringing in rural Mississippi, his experiences with poverty, and the profound impact of the civil rights movement on his life. The narrative unfolds through the lens of Campbell's personal relationships, his encounters with influential figures of the era, and his own spiritual journey.


The story is primarily set in the American South, spanning the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. The narrative captures the essence of small southern towns, the harsh realities of racial segregation, and the fervent social and political climate of the time.

Main Characters

Will CampbellThe author and protagonist of the memoir. Campbell reflects on his experiences and personal growth.
LarryCampbell's brother, whose tragic death deeply impacts the author.
W.E.B. Du BoisA prominent civil rights activist and scholar whose influence shapes Campbell's perspectives.
Eudora WeltyA renowned author and acquaintance of Campbell, who provides insight into the power of storytelling.

Summary of Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-3

Will Campbell introduces his childhood in the rural South, highlighting the poverty and racial segregation he witnessed. He describes the impact of his brother Larry's death, which becomes a pivotal moment in his life.

Chapter 4-6

Campbell reflects on his experiences at a racially segregated school and the influence of his family's Baptist faith on his worldview. He begins to grapple with the complexities of race relations and social injustice.

Chapter 7-9

The author delves into his time at Yale University and the profound encounters that shape his thinking, including discussions with influential figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Eudora Welty. These interactions challenge and broaden Campbell's perspectives.

Chapter 10-12

Campbell's journey into ministry and activism unfolds, as he confronts the realities of racial inequality and the moral imperative to effect change. The memoir captures the author's growing involvement in the civil rights movement.

Chapter 13-15

The narrative delves into Campbell's experiences as a chaplain at the University of Mississippi, where he grapples with the tension between his faith and the tumultuous social and political climate of the era.

Chapter 16-18

The memoir culminates in Campbell's reflections on the profound impact of the civil rights movement, his evolving understanding of justice and reconciliation, and the enduring power of compassion and empathy.

Main Events

  1. The death of Campbell's brother, Larry, profoundly shapes the author's worldview and sets the tone for much of the memoir.
  2. Campbell's encounters with influential figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Eudora Welty challenge and broaden his perspectives on race, faith, and social justice.
  3. The author's involvement in the civil rights movement, from his experiences in ministry to his role as a chaplain at the University of Mississippi, provides a rich exploration of his evolving activism and moral convictions.

Themes and Insights


  1. Race and Segregation: The memoir confronts the harsh realities of racial segregation in the American South and the pervasive impact of racial prejudice on individuals and communities.
  2. Faith and Morality: Campbell's reflections on his Baptist faith and the moral imperatives of justice and compassion offer profound insights into the intersection of spirituality and social activism.
  3. Human Relationships: The memoir explores the complexities of human connections, from the bonds of family to the transformative power of empathy and understanding.


  • The memoir offers a deeply personal exploration of the civil rights movement, shedding light on the moral and spiritual challenges faced by those committed to social change.
  • Campbell's introspective narrative provides a nuanced understanding of the enduring impact of historical and social injustices on individuals and communities.

Reader's Takeaway

"Brother to a Dragonfly" is a compelling and introspective memoir that offers readers a profound exploration of faith, race, and the human experience. Through Will D. Campbell's poignant narrative, readers gain insight into the complex realities of the civil rights movement, the enduring power of compassion, and the transformative potential of personal and social reconciliation.


In "Brother to a Dragonfly," Will D. Campbell invites readers on a deeply personal and introspective journey through the tumultuous landscape of the civil rights movement. The memoir's exploration of race, faith, and human connections offers a poignant and thought-provoking narrative that resonates with the complexities of the human experience. As readers delve into Campbell's reflections and encounters, they are confronted with the enduring significance of justice, empathy, and the pursuit of social change.

Brother to a Dragonfly FAQ

  1. What is 'Brother to a Dragonfly' about?

    Brother to a Dragonfly is a memoir by Will D. Campbell, which explores his experiences growing up in the racially segregated South, his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and his deep personal and spiritual reflections on these experiences.

  2. What themes are addressed in 'Brother to a Dragonfly'?

    The book addresses themes of racial segregation, social justice, the complexities of human relationships, spirituality, and the struggle for equality during the Civil Rights Movement.

  3. Is 'Brother to a Dragonfly' a work of fiction or non-fiction?

    This book is a non-fiction memoir, recounting the author's personal experiences and reflections on the events and issues he encountered.

  4. What makes 'Brother to a Dragonfly' significant?

    The book is significant for its intimate portrayal of the author's experiences in the American South during a pivotal time in history, offering a unique perspective on the Civil Rights Movement and the challenges of confronting racism and inequality.

  5. Who would enjoy reading 'Brother to a Dragonfly'?

    Readers interested in memoirs, civil rights history, and personal reflections on social justice issues would likely find 'Brother to a Dragonfly' to be a compelling and thought-provoking read.