Founder and director of the vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bernice Johson Reagon was active in the civil rights movement. She earned a doctorate at Howard University and worked as a cultural historian at the Smithsonian Institute and directed several programs in her career. She was made curator emeritus in 1994. She also taught at American History from 1993.
Selected Bernice Johnson Reagon Quotations
• I learned that if you bring black people together, you bring them together with a song. To this day, I don't understand how people think they can bring anybody together without a song.
• I came out of the Civil Rights Movement, and I had a different kind of focus than most people who have just the academic background as their primary training experience.
• At the same time all this was happening, there was a folk song revival movement goingon, so the commercial music industry was actually changed by the Civil Rights Movement.
• Some white people are so anxiety-ridden when faced with the truth about this country as a home to many cultures and races and ethnic groups. They cling to a mythology of a white America.
• Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are.
• Well, the first time I ran into the term religion, people were asking whether you had any. You know, some people had religion and some people didn't have religion.
• And I used to think that proof that I had religion was whether I knew how to sing all of the songs.
• I went to a church where you could not sing out loud in the service until you had been saved.
• There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Give it up.
• If you're in a coalition and you're comfortable, you know it's not a broad enough coalition.
• Today whenever women gather together it is not necessarily nurturing. It is coalition building. And if you feel the strain, you may be doing some good work.
• So one of the things that happened with integration in the South is they found that the black teachers were much more educated than the white teachers.
• When I started graduate school I was interested in the culture of the Civil Rights Movement.
• Most people come out of their Ph.D. experience trying to prove themselves, trying to get ahead, trying to get published. You're scared everybody else is going to do your research and get your topic.
• If I had been at a University I don't think I would have been able to have the experience I had in my Smithsonian work. I don't think I have been as successful.
• Howard University was great because it didn't have oral history or independent studies or interdisciplinary history when I came. It was a fairly conventional-style history department. They initiated all of those course options the year I came in.
• So I designed an office where I could do research and somehow present the primary research and analysis in public programs.
• But I'm a historian. I wasn't interested in just being a producer, I was interested in doing research and presenting that research to a general public.
• It makes sense that whatever the topic is, it's more compelling if you can provide the audience with a range of perspectives, and you can cross disciplines. And you don't have to control what people take out of it.
• As the years of work passed at the Smithsonian as a scholar, I realized that Howard had trained me well for the work I wanted to do.
• I was at the Smithsonian for twenty years, and I'm still at the Smithsonian as a curator emeritus, and I still plan to figure out what that means for me at this point in my life.
• I have always been able to find university-based scholars and some independent scholars who were more than willing to join in a concerted effort to do primary research that would result in a national conference, a data base or/and a publication.
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About These Quotes
Quote collection assembled by Jone Johnson Lewis. Each quotation page in this collection and the entire collection © Jone Johnson Lewis 1997-2009. This is an informal collection assembled over many years. I regret that I am not be able to provide the original source if it is not listed with the quote.
Jone Johnson Lewis. "Bernice Johnson Reagon Quotes." About Women's History. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/reagon_quotes.htm . Date accessed: (today). (More on how to cite online sources including this page)