From Ken Burn's 1990 documentary 'The Civil War" this stunning spiritual of that era by Bernice Johnson Reagon. She was born October 4, 1942 & is a singer, composer, scholar, and social activist, who founded the a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock in 1973.
The daughter of Baptist minister J.J. and Beatrice Johnson, Bernice was born and raised in southwest Georgia, where music was an integral part of life. She entered Albany State College in 1959 (since July 1996 Albany State University) where she began her study of music. She also became active in the local NAACP chapter and then the SNCC. After being expelled from Albany State because of an arrest for her civil rights activism, she attended Spelman College briefly. Later, she returned to Spelman to complete her undergraduate degree in 1970. She then received a Ford Foundation fellowship to study at Howard University, where she was awarded the Ph.D. degree in 1975.
Reagon was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. She was a member of The Freedom Singers, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for which she was also a field secretary. The Freedom Singers were organized by Cordell Reagon in 1962. This group was the first to travel nationally. The singers realized that singing helped provide an outlet for protestors when dealing with issues like mobs and police brutality. Thanks to her roles with SNCC and the Freedom Singers she became a very respected song leader during the Civil Rights Movement. She had people like James Forman say-"I remember seeing you lift your beautiful black head, stand squarely on your feet, your lips trembling as the melodious words 'Over my head, I see freedom in the air' came forth with an urgency and a pain that brought out a sense of intense renewal and commitment of liberation. And when the call came to protest the jailings, you were up front. You led the line. Your feet hit the dirty pavement with a sureness of direction. You walked proudly onward singing 'this little light of mine, 'and the people echoed, 'shine, shine, shine.
Reagon is a specialist in African-American oral history, performance and protest traditions. She has served as music consultant, producer, composer, and performer on several award-winning film projects - notably PBS television productions such as Eyes on the Prize (1987) (in which she also appeared) and Ken Burns' The Civil War (1990) - and was the conceptual producer and narrator of the Peabody Award-winning radio series, Wade in the Water, African American Sacred Music Traditions.
Reagon's work as a scholar and composer is reflected in publications on African-American culture and history, including: a collection of essays entitled If You Don’t Go, Don’t Hinder Me: The African American Sacred Song Tradition (University of Nebraska Press, 2001); We Who Believe In Freedom: Sweet Honey In The Rock: Still on the Journey, (Anchor Books, 1993); and We'll Understand It Better By And By: Pioneering African American Gospel Composers (Smithsonian Press, 1992).
Reagon has recorded on several albums on Folkways Records including Folk Songs: The South, Wade in the Water, and Lest We Forget, Vol. 3: Sing for Freedom.
Reagon is Professor Emerita of History at American University in Washington, D.C., and holds the title of Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, and was the 2002–04 Cosby Chair Professor of Fine Arts at Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia.
In 1973 Reagon founded the six member all female a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. In addition to Reagon, the women in the original group were: Ysaye Maria Barnwell, Nitanju Bolade Casle, Shirley Childress Johnson, Aisha Kahil, and Carol Maillard. The only instrument they used was their voices along with shekere and tambourine. They have traveled all over to places like Europe, Japan, Mexico, and Australia. The group's fan base is of different ethnic backgrounds, religions, and sexual orientations. Reagon's musical roots come from the rural South Baptist Church. She has advocated "music's informational and transformative power to ask" and the impact music has had on the Civil Rights Movement.