Truth to power: Pete Seeger vs HUAC


In honor of Pete Seeger's passing today, please take a moment to read his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which is a cross between a witch-hunt and a Marx Brothers' routine. It is inspired and inspiring. Goodbye, Mr Seeger.

MR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled "What's On" appears this advertisement: "Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming." May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from the New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.

MR. TAVENNER: I don't believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.

MR. SCHERER: He hasn't answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn't answer whether the article appeared in the New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.

House Unamerican Activities Committee

Notable Replies

  1. Poking at paranoids, jingoists, and sanctimonious blowhards makes you a better American and a greater lover of freedom than being a paranoid, jingoist, or a sanctimonious blowhard.

    But for some reason the latter categories make a better living.

  2. Just listened to an old interview with him on Fresh Air. He noted that history has been much kinder to those who sat on his side of that table. At one point he was grilled about a specific song he had performed and he offered to sing it before the committee (who refused his offer). Bravo.

  3. What you noted kinda sums it up right there. People need to decide which side of the table they'd like to be remembered for. They know which one is right.

  4. Interesting: The trolls who feel they need to slam Seeger all seem to be posting variations on the same boilerplate factoids of stuff that happened 70 years ago.

    A lot of idealistic people were commies in the 30s, when capitalism was thrashing and western democracies seemed unable to get their heads above water. Frederik Pohl wrote about that scene first hand; he went to communist party meetings to meet girls. Got out when the cognitive dissonance got too great.

  5. You mean . . . he changed his tune the same way most of America did at the time?

    It's not a moral flaw to be opposed to war, especially when WW1 ("The War to End All Wars") was still fresh in the memory-- whatever his flaws, Seeger still comes out smelling like roses compared to the Americans (like Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh) who loudly supported Hitler before he invaded Poland.

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