Activist inspires a new generation

Bernice Johnson Reagon, an activist from the Civil Rights Movement, signs books and talks to attendants after speaking and singing in Van Meter Hall on Wednesday night. Reagon made the presentation as part of a Black History Month and Women’s Studies event series.

Kevin Allen

Bernice Johnson Reagon has been an activist, scholar, singer and author for  civil and women’s rights since the 1960s.    

Reagon discussed her life as an African-American woman in the South during that time in her presentation Wednesday night in Van Meter Hall.

Reagon began by singing “Would You Harbor Me?” which had a message of encouraging people to accept others from different cultures and circumstances.

Reagon then talked about how her experiences at Albany State University in Georgia led her to become involved in the civil rights and women’s movement.

“Being born female theoretically shouldn’t be rough, but it is really rough,” she said.

Reagon said she was often frustrated in the civil rights movement because the participation of women was rarely talked about, which attracted her to the feminist movement.

“The idea that there needed to be a struggle to change the position of women in society was one I was really ready for,” she said.

During her time in college, a man propositioned Reagon for sex over the phone, which prompted her to organize a sting operation to catch the man, she said in her presentation.

The story inspired many students in the audience, including Emily Dickey, a freshman from Indian Head, Md.

“She was telling us a story of herself when she was in college where she had set up her own sting operation,” Dickey said. “That alone was inspirational. I even wrote a poem about it.”

During several spiritual songs, Reagon  encouraged the audience to sing along with her performance.

“This is not a solo,” she said, eliciting laughs from the audience.

Reagon ended by recounting the “visceral identification” she had with Joan Little, who was tried for murder after killing her rapist.

Reagon said hearing about Little’s case made her realize that women could fight back against those that had power over them. To gain support for Little, Reagon wrote a song about her and performed it across the country with Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a cappella group she founded.

Nashville sophomore Justin McCathern said he felt especially inspired by that story.

“One person can be the start of a major change,” McCathern said. “It gave me a more driving motive to do things.”