The SNCC Freedom Singers

The SNCC Freedom Singers. Left to right is Rutha Mae Harris, Cordell Reagon, Bettie Mae Fikes, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Charles (Chuck) Neblett in the center sitting down (photo provided. Used with permission from Charles Neblett).

Charles Neblett of Russellville is to be recognized by his alma mater, Southern Illinois University Carbondale with an honorary doctor of humane letters during their commencement on May 11, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. The Civil Rights activist is best known for being a member of The Freedom Singers who risked their lives traveling the country for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1961. He also lead the marchers in song following Martin Luther King Jr.'s memorable speech during the Washington March.  After retiring in Russellville, where he lived as a teen, he became the town's first African American magistrate and played an active role in the formation of the new African American Research Center revitalizing "The Black Bottom" section of town. 

Though Neblett's activism began with a soda shop protest near Franklin, Kentucky at the age of 9, it was at SIU where he began making a difference when as a freshman he convinced the president of the University to desegregate student housing.

After joining the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee he joined the Freedom Singers with Cordell Reagon, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Ruth Mae Harris. The Freedom Singers shared the stage with the likes of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte and Joan Baez and continue to perform a dozen shows a year including working with the Smithsonian.

Charles Neblett has received various honors throughout his life for his service to the country, including being the guest of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House along with his wife Marvinia Benton Neblett during Black History month.

You can read more about Charles Neblett in the 2007 Amplifier cover story Charles Neblett: Singing for freedom.

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