Published on January 11th, 2018 | by Nicole Vear

#Musicofamovement – Celebrating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Through song (Part 2) SNCC Freedom Singers

We’ve heard the songs in films, documentaries and television, but if you were not of age during or right after the Civil Rights era, you may not know who the voices that sang the various freedom songs were. SNCC, (The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) was a groundbreaking organization that played a pivotal part in the era by way of the leadership that came from it and the robust strategies it implemented. While constantly keeping the pulse of 1960s youth through dynamic engagement and mentorship from other leaders and organizations, SNCC recognized the power of the political and the spiritual working in tandem.

Music, specifically gospel, was intrinsic to the aims and energy of the movement. The physical church in America had always played an important role in Freedom movements, from housing schools and meetings, the lyrics and sounds of spirituals were a part of the organization’s spiritual culture. SNCC expanded on this and took spirituals and gospel music to the realm of organizing. The music’s value was in sustaining and creating the spiritual energy that gave the Civil Rights movement a pulse to know it was alive.

Out of this recognition came the SNCC Freedom Singers. Founded in 1962 by student activists, SNCC field secretaries and song leaders, the group included noted alto singer, historian and scholar Bernice Reagan Johnson, Cordell Reagan (bass), Bernice Johnson (soprano) and Charles Nelbett, (tenor). The young activists came out of the big and successful desegregationist-oriented Albany Movement in Georgia. The quartet toured auditoriums, coffee houses, colleges, high schools and house parties.

SNCC empowered the group to continue to carry out its mission and goals of fundraising, organizing efforts and bringing political awareness. The Freedom Singers often opened meetings in song and informed their audiences of happenings in the Civil Rights Movement nationally. With the deliberateness of the SNCC Freedom Singers, We now have political, yet spiritually motivating music embedded in our souls and collective memory. Several of these iconic recordings can be heard below:

The Freedom Singers – Woke Up This Morning:

The Freedom Singers perform “We Shall Not Be Moved” at the March on Washington:

Which Side are You On?:

Uncle Tom’s Prayer by Freedom Singer Cordell Hull Reagon:

The Freedom Singers – They Laid Medgar Evers In His Grave:

“We’ll Never Turn Back” | Original Freedom Singers Strike a Timely Chord:

“Governor Wallace”:

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