Farewell to another voice of my childhood.
Pete Seeger-Where Have all the Flowers Gone
Some of the first songs I learnt to sing beyond nursery songs & school singalongs were Pete Seeger songs. The singing sessions around the campfire on bushwalks during the 70s were always my favourite part of the weekends away, and the 60s folk revival songs were our staples. I have no doubt that my politics today have largely grown from learning and loving these protest songs from an early age.
I enjoyed reading his Wikipedia entry today, and realising that he was still performing on stage and practising activism up until very recently. The NYT obituary is a well-deserved tribute, and this transcript of his testimony before HUAC in 1955 is a timely reminder of the effectiveness of civil non-cooperation:
MR. SCHERER: Did you sing before the groups that Mr. Tavenner asked you about?
MR. SEEGER: I am saying that my answer is the same as before. I have told you that I sang for everybody.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Wait a minute. You sang for everybody. Then are we to believe, or to take it, that you sang at the places Mr. Tavenner mentioned?
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is that?
MR. SEEGER: It seems to me like the third time I have said it, if not the fourth.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Maybe it is the fifth, but say it again. I want to know what your answer is.
(Witness consulted with counsel.)
MR. SEEGER: 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.
MR. TAVENNER: According to the Daily Worker, there was a conference program of the Civil Rights Congress on April 2, 1949, at which you were one of the performers. On August 27, 1949, the People’s Artists presented a summer musicale at Lakeland Acres picnic grounds, Peekskill, New York, for the benefit of the Harlem chapter of the Civil Rights Congress, at which you were a participant. At another meeting of the Civil Rights Congress of New York, around May 11, 1946, you were a participant. Will you tell the Committee, please, under what circumstances you performed, because you have said that you sang at all sorts of meetings. Under what circumstances were your services acquired on those occasions?
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before, sir. I can only infer from your lack of interest in my songs that you are actually scared to know what these songs are like, because there is nothing wrong with my songs, sir. Do you know-
MR. SCHERER: You said you want to talk about your songs, and I will give you an opportunity. Tell us what songs you sang at Communist Party meetings?
MR. SEEGER: I will tell you about the songs that I have sung any place.
MR. SCHERER: I want to know the ones that you sang at Communist Party meetings, because those are the songs about which we can inquire. Just tell us one song that you sang at a Communist Party meeting.
MR. SEEGER: Mr. Scherer, it seems to me that you heard my testimony, and that is a ridiculous question, because you know what my answer is.
Pete Seeger was sentenced to a year in jail for contempt of Congress but appealed his case successfully after a fight that lasted until 1962.
Here’s one of the songs HUAC really didn’t like:
Pete Seeger – If I Had A Hammer (The Hammer Song) (Live at Farm Aid 2013) </em