Legendary folk singer, activist and countercultural icon Pete Seeger died in 2014 at the age of 94, but we're only now learning that the FBI thought he was a communist as a young man because of the artist's "subversive" connections.
In a security investigation triggered by a wartime letter he wrote denouncing a proposal to deport all Japanese-Americans, the Army intercepted Seeger's mail to his fiancee, scoured his school records, talked to his father, interviewed an ex-landlord and questioned his pal Woody Guthrie, according to FBI files obtained by The Associated Press.
Investigators concluded that Seeger's association with known communists and his Japanese-American fiancee pointed to a risk of divided loyalty.
Seeger's "Communistic sympathies, his unsatisfactory relations with landlords and his numerous Communist and otherwise undesirable friends, make him unfit for a position of trust or responsibility," according to a military intelligence report.
Famously, Seeger was later blacklisted during the Red Scare as a member of The Weavers, his band…
Seeger and Lee Hays were identified as Communist Party members by FBI informant Harvey Matusow (who later recanted) and ended up being called up to testify to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1955. Hays took the Fifth Amendment. Seeger refused to answer, however, claiming First Amendment grounds, the first to do so after the conviction of the Hollywood Ten in 1950. Seeger was found guilty of contempt and placed under restrictions by the court pending appeal, but in 1961 his conviction was overturned on technical grounds. Because Seeger was among those listed in the entertainment industry blacklist publication, Red Channels, all of the Weavers were placed under FBI surveillance and not allowed to perform on television or radio during the McCarthy era. Decca Records terminated their recording contract and deleted their records from its catalog in 1953. Their recordings were denied airplay, which curtailed their income from royalties. Right-wing and anti-Communist groups protested at their performances and harassed promoters. As a result, the group's economic viability diminished rapidly and in 1952 it disbanded. After this, Pete Seeger continued his solo career, although as with all of them, he continued to suffer from the effects of blacklisting.
Then the 1960s happened. And then, everything else. May you build a ladder to the stars; may you stay forever young.