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Mon, 02.22.1943

Cordell Reagon, Singer and Activist born

Cordell Reagon

*Cordell Reagon was born on this date in 1943. He was a Black singer and activist. Cordell Hull Reagon was born in Nashville, Tennessee.

Reagon was 16 years of age in 1959 when his powerful tenor voice spread the message of the American Civil Rights movement throughout the United States and Canada.  James Forman, executive secretary of SNCC, called him "the baby of the movement." Reagon, arrested more than thirty times in the South for his anti-segregation activities, conducted nonviolent training workshops for hundreds of volunteers who journeyed to the South to work on voter registration campaigns and other civil rights projects.

In 1962, at the encouragement of his friend Pete Seeger, Reagon founded The SNCC Freedom Singers, a quartet of two men and two women who sang gospel-style freedom songs to rouse support for the civil rights movement. The songs brought the struggle for civil rights and its activities to a wide audience. The people involved were already singers—in church choirs and schools, including his first wife, Bernice Johnson. He organized the music, tapped into the community's singing energy, and gave struggle a focus.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Reagon became active in the movements against the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, and environmental justice. From 1965 until 1988, he lived in New York City with his second wife, Marble Reagon. He worked as an organizer for the Social Service Employees Union, Mobilization for Survival, and was a youth worker for Mobilization for Youth and a career and vocational counselor. In 1988 he moved to Berkeley, where he founded the environmental group Urban Habitat and Urban Justice Organization. Cordell Reagon remained an activist until his death at 53 on November 12, 1996, in his Berkeley, California, apartment, the victim of a still-unsolved homicide.

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