New Comic Honors Civil Rights Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon on Her 80th Birthday

An educational comic celebrates the life and work of scholar, singer, and activist

Reagon Comic - Twitter.png
Smithsonian Libraries and Archives, together with the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, are excited to announce the publication of a new comic mini-zine about the work of musician and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon.
Black and white photo of Bernice Johnson Reagon
Photographic portrait of Bernice Johnson Reagon, taken by Dane Penland, 1981. Smithsonian Institution Archives

Bernice Johnson Reagon—along with Cordell Reagon, Rutha Harris, and Charles Neblett—founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Singers, an influential group of civil rights singers who operated in the 1960s. They toured the country, singing and raising support for civil rights causes in the U.S. South. Reagon would later cofound the Grammy-nominated African American women’s a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock, which “educates, entertains, and empowers” through songs, stories, and American Sign Language. A multi-talented singer, songwriter, producer, activist, and educator, Bernice’s influence on artists and activists across the country has been felt for many decades. She turns 80 this month, on October 4th, 2022.

Cover of Ms. magazine with members of Sweet Honey in the Rock
Bernice Johnson Reagon (lower left-hand corner) with Sweet Honey in the Rock on the cover of Ms. magazine, 1993 Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Bernice’s ties to the Smithsonian are long and strong. She worked as a curator and director of the Program in Black American Culture at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Her Ph.D. dissertation work at Howard University informed Voices of the Civil Rights Movement, first published by Smithsonian Recordings and then reissued by Smithsonian Folkways. She has two solo albums on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, including Folk Songs: The South (1965) and Give Your Hands to Struggle (1975). She also produced and co-wrote liner notes for Wade in the Water (1996), a companion to her 1995 Peabody Award-winning radio series of the same name.

Cover of Folk Songs: The South album with photo of Reagon looking contemplative
Bernice Johnson Reagon, Folk Songs: The South, Folkways Records, 1965. Smithsonian Folkways
Geared toward students and educators, this publication aims to introduce her work to a new generation of young people. This comic zine complements the current exhibition Music HerStory: Women and Music of Social Change, in which Bernice’s work as a civil rights leader and artistic visionary is highlighted. The comic, written and drawn by Evan Keeling, can be downloaded on the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives webpage. The development of this publication was generously supported by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee and produced in partnership with Smithsonian Exhibits.
Eight panel comic about the life of Bernice Johnson Reagon
Bernice Johnson Reagon comic by Evan Keeling. Smithsonian Libraries and Archives

Further Reading: