Although I never personally met him and only saw him in concert once almost 40 years ago, I felt like I had lost a friend when I leaned that Pete Seeger had passed away on Monday evening, Jan. 27.
I have always been attracted to folk, bluegrass, and songs of the people -- the music that promotes peace and justice. In high school, even though I was old enough to drink (the drinking age was 18 back then), going to bars and clubs did not attract me. My idea of a hot Saturday night was to go to Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, sip espresso, munch the homemade cookies and sing along to the music.
Not a mass protest goes by without one of the songs that Seeger either wrote or popularized getting sung by the crowd.
Seeger not only understood the need for peace and that it is built piece by piece, he also understood how peace and justice were the obverse sides of the same coin. He understood the risks one must take on behalf of both and had the courage to take them.
Missing last night from the mainstream media accolades and accomplishments were his words to Congress when he was hauled in front of the House Committee for UN-American Activities, AKA “Club McCarthy," in August 1955.
He refused to name names and refused to invoke the Fifth Amendment, instead -- in the kindest and most peace creating way -- called the hearings out for out the evil that they indeed were.
Here is one of his quotes from the transcript:
“I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.”
To read the whole transcript click here here.
He was charged with “Contempt of Congress” (judging by current public opinion of Congress most of the country could be slapped with that charge today) and was hauled off to jail. He spent a few hours locked up, was bailed out and the charges were not dropped until 1966. He was also blacklisted in the mainstream entertainment industry -- which didn't seem to bother him or hamper his peace and justice music ministry -- much to the chagrin of some and dismay of others.
I have resolved to commit to memory the quoted paragraph the same as I have committed the Our Father and Hail Mary to memory. I fear that someday it will be just as useful.