A minister, civil rights activist, and author, he was the only white man present at the inception of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His most famous published work, Brother to a Dragonfly, was nominated for the National Book Award in 1978.
At the age of seventeen, he was ordained as a Baptist minister. He received his undergraduate degree from Wake Forest College, and he later attended both Tulane University and the Yale University Divinity School.
He escorted integrated African-American students into public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
He was born in Amite County, Mississippi. With his wife, Brenda Fisher, he had three children.
He and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were both founding members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.