Cordell Reagon was an American singer and activist. He was a founding member of The Freedom Singers of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a leader of the Albany Movement , and a Freedom Rider.
Born in Nashville in 1943, Reagon was 16 in 1959 when he emerged as a leader of the civil rights movement in Nashville. James Forman, who became the executive secretary of SNCC, called him “the baby of the movement”; Reagon was the youngest staff member of SNCC when he was hired in 1961. His first assignment was voter registration work in McComb, MS; later, he was assigned to Albany, Georgia. Arrested more than thirty times in the South for his anti-segregation activities, Reagon conducted nonviolent training workshops for hundreds of volunteers who journeyed to the South to work on voter registration campaigns and other civil rights projects. At age 18, he was a 1961 Freedom Rider.
In 1962, at the encouragement of friend Pete Seeger, Reagon founded The Freedom Singers, a quartet of two men and two women who sang gospel-style freedom songs to raise support and funds for SNCC. The songs brought the struggle for civil rights and its activities to a wide audience. The people involved were already singers—in church choirs, in schools, including his first wife, Bernice Johnson. Organizing the music simply tapped into the singing energy of the community 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 destruction. From 1965 until 1988 he lived in New York City and worked as an organizer for the Social Service Employees Union, Mobilization for Survival, was a youth worker for Mobilization for Youth. 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 1996 death at age 53 in his Berkeley, California, apartment, the victim of a still-unsolved homicide. (New York Times obituary).