During the 1960s when civil rights activists faced stubborn and often violent opposition, they affirmed their commitment to winning justice and bolstered their courage with song.
“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around” they would sing as they marched into courthouses to register to vote.
Bernice Johnson Reagon, who stood at the forefront struggling for freedom, and leading the way with song, will keynote the University of Tennessee at Martin’s 11th annual Civil Rights Conference at 7 p.m., Feb. 24, in Boling University Center’s Watkins Auditorium.
As a student at Albany State College, Dr. Reagon helped jumpstart the Civil Rights movement in Albany, Ga., in the early 1960s. In one of the first civil rights actions there, Reagon was jailed.
To keep their spirits up, the jailed protesters called on Reagon, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, to lead them in song.
The young Bernice Johnson “flipped” a gospel hymn, “Over my head/I see trouble in the air,” substituting the word “freedom” for “trouble.” And a freedom song was born.
Reagon has served as distinguished professor of history at American University, curator emerita at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and as the founder and artistic director of Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a cappella ensemble of African-American women. The UT Martin Collegiate Gospel Choir will perform before her address.
Opening ceremonies for the Civil Rights Conference will be from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Feb. 19, and 3-5 p.m., Feb. 20, in Boling University Center, with African-American History Month art, poetry and music, sponsored by the Ken-Tenn Homecoming and Reunion Association and Community Forum.
Saturday’s event will feature readings by J. Moffett Walker, author of “The Mississippi I Love.”
Native American Civil Rights Day events will take place Feb. 21, beginning with a Native American slideshow, slated from 6-6:30 p.m., followed by music from 6:30-7 p.m. At 7 p.m., Native American activist Denise Pictou Maloney will lead a discussion on the battle for justice for Annie Mae Pictou Aquash.
Aquash, a member of the American Indian Movement, was murdered during the 1970s, and Maloney is her daughter. The Native American civil rights events will be presented in Watkins Auditorium, Boling University Center.
On Feb. 22, the Quality Education Project Workshop, slated for 9:30 a.m., will be presented in Room 206, Boling University Center.
At noon, the UT Martin percussion ensemble will present “Roots of Rhythm,” a musical demonstration of how the clave rhythm traveled throughout the world through the migration of African slaves.
Admission for the performance will be $5, and there will be another performance at 7:30 p.m.
Dr. Henry Parker, UT Martin professor of philosophy, will present, “How German Philosophers Created the Myth of a Superior White Race” at 2 p.m. All events on Feb. 22, except the workshop, will be in Watkins Auditorium, Boling University Center.
Brooke Haycock, playwright and actor, will perform “Catalyst” at 10 a.m., Feb. 23, and “Dilated Pupils and the Not-So-Soft Bigotry of a Nation” at 1 p.m.
With a background in student organizing, her one-woman shows have sparked dialogue and focused energies around some of the most pressing issues in American education today.
At 3 p.m., “Lessons from the Mountaintop: Civil Rights and Labor Organizing in the South,” will be a panel presentation on labor and the Civil Rights Movement.
All events on Feb. 23 will be presented in Watkins Auditorium, Boling University Center.
A series of events mark conference activities on the conference’s last day, Feb. 24, taking place in Watkins Auditorium, Boling University Center.
At 9:30 a.m., Dr. Charles McKinney, assistant professor of history at Rhodes College in Memphis, will present “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: the Civil Rights Movement’s Significance.”
McKinney is the author of the critically acclaimed, “Greater Freedom: The Evolution of the Civil Rights Struggle in Wilson, North Carolina.”
Sue Thrasher, who as a young white woman hailing from Savannah, joined the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. She will speak at 11 a.m. on what it meant to be “A White Southerner in the Civil Rights Movement.”
At 1 p.m., Perry Wallace, professor at Washington College of Law and first African-American varsity athlete in the Southeastern Conference, will present, “Integrating SEC Basketball.”
At 2:30 p.m., Linda Bradford, leader of a project researching the black railroad workers of the Fulton-South Fulton area, will present, “Jim Crow Trains, Civil Rights and the Creation of the Black Middle Class.”
The conference will close at 7 p.m., with the keynote address by Reagon.
For more information, complete schedule or reservations, call 731-881-7465 or e-mail Dr. David Barber, conference coordinator, at email@example.com.
The conference schedule can be found at www.utm.edu/civilrights or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=92875165374.