Noted Civil Rights leader and Freedom Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon will give this year’s commencement address at UNC Asheville.
Chancellor Anne Ponder will confer honorary degrees on Reagon and legendary UNC-Chapel Hill Coaches Dean Smith and Roy Williams at the university’s spring commencement. The ceremony will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 15, on UNC Asheville’s Quad.
Reagon, a Georgia native, became involved in the Civil Rights movement as a college student. She was an original member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers and a founding member of the Harambee Singers. While a graduate student at Howard University, she served as vocal director of the D.C. Black Repertory Theatre and formed the internationally renowned African American women’s a capella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock. She led the group until her retirement in early 2004. Currently, she is a popular speaker at venues across the nation, performing in her unique song-talk style.
Professor emeritus of history at American University, Reagon also served as curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and as the 2002-04 Cosby Chair of Fine Arts at Spelman College. However, music has remained a constant for Reagon. She acted as music consultant, composer and performer for several film and video projects, including the award-winning “Eyes on the Prize,” the Emmy-winning “We Shall Overcome” and the feature film “Beloved.” She wrote the authoritative text on the subject of African American sacred music and has been featured on numerous solo and group recordings with Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Tar Heel Coaches Smith and Williams are legends of college basketball. Smith is best known for his tenure in men’s basketball from 1961 until his retirement in 1997. While at North Carolina, Smith helped promote desegregation by recruiting the university’s first African American scholarship basketball player, Charlie Scott, and working for equal treatment for African Americans by local businesses. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983, two years after his induction into the North Carolina Hall of Fame.
Asheville native Williams has won the Associated Press Coach of the Year award twice. In his career at the University of Kansas and at UNC-Chapel Hill, Williams has taken his teams to seven Final Fours and led the Tar Heels to two NCAA National Championships. In 2007, he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
The North Asheville Tailgate Market, which is held on campus on Saturday mornings, will be moved to the nearby parking lot of Covenant Presbyterian Church on Edgewood Rd. during Commencement. It will return to campus on May 22.