Bernice Johnson Reagon

NAACP, Albany Movement, SNCC, 1959-1965, Georgia
Current Residence: Washington, DC
Web Site:

Abbreviated Notes: Bernice Johnson Reagon: "born again"

In my senior year of High School, 1959, the Junior Chapter of the NAACP was reorganized and I joined and served as secretary. As a student at Albany State College I continued my work with the NAACP Junior Chapter, 1960-61. I was Soph rep to Student Government and active in campus efforts to demand action from the administration re: issues of safety from white men who harassed students as they rode through the campus; occasionally being driven from the female dormitory. Student Government suspended because of various efforts Spring Quarter 61.

Fall '61, SNCC field Secretaries Charles Sherrod and Cordell Reagon (later joined by Charlie Jones) came to SW GA and began organizing by conducting non-violent workshops and preparing for regional voter registration efforts in counties surrounding Albany. With Annette Jones, led the first mass march in Albany in support of students arrested for testing Nov 1 federal ruling making segregated facilities illegal; 2 of the 5 arrested refused to pay bail and the march was to demonstrate support.

Albany Movement organized as a coordinating organization, served as student reps on Albany Movement Executive Committee; mass meetings were marked by powerful singing in the Southwest GA congregrational style — songleading were usually done by strong student singers; extended by elders who extended singing from their seats in the congregations.

Arrested December 1961, among over 700 arrested during a five day period. Suspended from Albany State College. January, 1862, attended first session of SCLC Citizenship education sessions in Dorchestor, GA with other suspended students, SNCC field secretaries Reagon, and Sherrod. Met Septima Clark who was the creator of the structure of this adult training and Bernice Robinson who led most of the sessions for the first time; also met Guy Carawan from Highlander Folk Center. These sessions continued for 10 years and I returned several times to work with people who came from communities building local movements across the South.

Went to Spelman College Spring Semester, returned fall semester, left in November, did support work in New York, Schnectady and Albany, until joining the first National tour of the SNCC Freedom Singers organized by Cordell Reagon. Joined by Rutha Harris from Albany and Charles Neblett from Carbondale IL. Bertha Gober, Albany State student jailed and suspended in '61 a great singer (who wrote "We'll Never Turn Back" after Cordell told us the story of the killing of Rev. Herbert Lee in Mississippi) joined us for a few weeks when we sang in California.

Cordell and I had two children 64-65; worked as a volunteer in the Atlanta SNCC office during the same period; moving toward being a cultural organizer extending what I had learned singing in SW Ga and as a SNCC Freedom Singer. SNCC organizer,Ruth Howard opened the The Loving Spoonful in Atlanta and provided a vital opportunity for me to sing again whenever I needed to.

As singer/organizer, assisted Anne Romaine in organizing the first interracial traveling folk festival; this festival was initally sponsored by SSOC and continued by Anne Romaine for 25 years as her primary life work. Based in Atlanta, conducted workshops in songs and songleading in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi 1965-67; especially related to work in schools organized for young Black children. With Guy Carawan and Highlander, organized several songleader workshops in Atlanta and at Highlander; organized with a group of Atlanta activist parents, the Penny Festival; with Steve Henderson, organized the Soul Roots Festival at Morehouse and at Miles College, Al. Served as member of the Newport Festival board... and organized the Harambee Singers, Atlanta Ga and began to sing for Black Power/Black Consciousness organizing — beginning to write my own songs.

Assisted by Vincent Harding, then head of the Spelman's History Department in going back and finishing college. During this time, continuing to serve as activist:organizer, producer, cultural historian. Phone call from Stanley Wise asking if I had finished my undergraduate degree? "Yes," resulted in me applying for Ford fellowship and graduate school moving to Washington DC and Howard University. The study of the evolution of African American Culture with a focus on our songs and singing has been my constant; being a voice for those that might be dispised, disrespected and in need of support continues to charge my breath...


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