Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pete Seeger


An early draft of what became the second act of These Are The Times included many scenes taken directly from transcripts from the House Committee on Un-American Activities. One such scene featured Peter "Peter" Seeger (May 3, 1919 – January 27, 2014) who sat before the committee, gladly exposed his interrogators as fools, and stood tall as he always did against Fascism.

Joyce Brabner produced a staged reading of what was then called This Is The Times at the Unitarian Universalist Church on December 12, 2008. Seeger was performed in that reading by Dan McElhaney and he really got the smile right.

This scene is my edited version of the historical transcript.
Pete Seeger’s testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee on August 18, 1955

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Please identify yourself, sir, by name and occupation.

SEEGER
My name is Pete Seeger. I was born in New York in 1919.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
What is your profession or occupation?

SEEGER
It is hard to call it a profession. I kind of drifted into it and I never intended to be a musician, and I am glad I am one now, and it is a very honorable profession, but when I started out actually I wanted to be a newspaperman, and when I left school --

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Will you answer the question, please?

SEEGER
I have to explain that it really wasn't my profession, I picked up a little change in it.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
The Committee has obtained information indicating that, over a period of time you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. (reads) "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?

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

COMMITTEE MEMBER
I don't believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.  I direct you to answer.

SEEGER
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious or political beliefs, or any of these private affairs. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker.  (reads) "May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy. Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally."  And then follows a statement, "Entertainment by Pete Seeger." Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on this occasion?

SEEGER
I believe I have already answered this question.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
What is your answer?

SEEGER
I resent very deeply the implication that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Why don't you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?

SEEGER
I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
I don't want to hear about it. I direct you to answer that question.

SEEGER
I have already given you my answer, sir. However, if you want to question me about any songs, I would be glad to tell you, sir.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Did you participate in a program at Wingdale Lodge in the State of New York, on the weekend of July Fourth of this year?

SEEGER
I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business. But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Did you sing the song "Now Is the Time," at Wingdale Lodge on the weekend of July Fourth?

SEEGER
I don't know any song by that name. I know a song called "Wasn't That a Time." Is that the song?

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Did you sing that song?

SEEGER
I can sing it. I don't know how well I can do it without my banjo.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
I said, did you sing it on that occasion?

SEEGER
I have sung that song.  I have sung it many places.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Did you sing it on this particular occasion?

SEEGER
Again my answer is the same.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
You said that you would tell us about it.

SEEGER
I will tell you about the songs, I am not going to go into where I have sung them.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
I direct you to answer the question. Did you sing this particular song on the Fourth of July at Wingdale Lodge in New York?

SEEGER
I am sorry you are not interested in the song. It is a good song.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
I want to know whether or not you were entertaining for the benefit of Communist fronts at these features.

SEEGER
I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Did you sing at functions of the Communist Party, at Communist Party requests?

SEEGER
I believe, sir, that a good twenty minutes ago, I gave my answer to this whole line of questioning.

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Have you been a member of the Communist Party since 1947?

SEEGER
It is like Jesus Christ when asked by Pontius Pilate, "Are you king of the Jews?"

COMMITTEE MEMBER
Stop that.

SEEGER
I would be curious to know what you think of a song like this very great Negro spiritual, "I'm Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield, Down by the Riverside."

COMMITTEE MEMBER
The witness is excused.

-- end of scene --

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