I REMEMBER MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO when I first heard Reggie Harris in concert. I arranged for Reggie and his wife, Kim, to appear at Siena College in conjunction with my course on the civil rights movement. That evening Kim and Reggie gave a spirited performance capturing the aims and fervor of the African American freedom struggle. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Years later, I invited Reggie to accompany me on a tour of the South for students from Siena College and Albany High School. We retraced the route taken by the Freedom Riders in 1961 and concluded at the 50th anniversary celebration of their historic journey. On that trip, I observed how the young people eagerly learned the songs he taught while they absorbed the history of the veteran Freedom Riders they met. Three years later, Reggie and I escorted a second student group on a study tour connected to Mississippi Freedom Summer. They engaged with movement veterans and discovered that these heroes were once idealistic young people much like themselves. When Reggie accepted the role of leader for the Living Legacy project taking tours of southern places where civil rights history was made, I knew he was the ideal person for the job.
Reggie’s work as a teacher and motivational speaker extends well beyond his knowledge of African American history. He is an ambassador for interracial understanding and healing. He shares his song “Hickory Hill,” which tells of meeting with white descendants of Williams Carter Wickham, the Virginia slave master who held Reggie’s ancestors in slavery and also was the progenitor of Reggie’s family.
I know I will be at the North Chatham Library on Sunday, July 24 at 3 p.m., when Reggie Harris shares his songs and stories of struggle and compassion. I hope many others will join me there.
(Paul Murray is professor emeritus at Siena College, Loudonville.)