Letter: When Seeger rocked the house in 48
To the editor of THE EAGLE:
A national treasure has passed. Pete Seeger has served as our conscience when many of us were unable to do so for ourselves. There was no flaw in his passion for progressive causes, no trace of hate or rancor in his love of justice and fairness. He was, and will remain, among the best that this country has given us. He carried his banjo, not as a weapon, but rather as a staff, offering welcome to all, to join with him in joyous and infectious celebration of the best in us.
I first met Pete Seeger in 1948 at the national convention for the Progressive Party, where Henry Wallace, our former vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, was nominated for president along with his vice presidential running mate Glen Taylor. The convention was held in Philadelphia at Shibe Park at the end of July 1948. Shibe Park, a baseball park also known as Connie Mack Stadium, had a capacity of just over 32,000.
On the final day of the convention, after Wallace and Taylor were nominated, the stadium was filled to capacity. Many of us found ways to get there and to pay the then rather large admission fee ranging from 65 cents to $2.60.
We went by bus, old jalopies, motorcycles and hitch-hiking. Two of my friends and myself walked across the George Washington Bridge (no toll) to New Jersey and hitch-hiked from there to Philadelphia. We paid our 65 cents and, from the highest tier in the park, watched and celebrated the nominations for president and vice president of the United States. At what we thought of as the conclusion of the convention, a young folk-singer, with his voice and banjo, began a joyous and infectious celebration of the convention and the beginning of a campaign that many of us thought of as a new day in politics.
Pete Seeger, then about 28 years old, led the entire stadium in song and dance, and began a march around the stadium. My friends and I often spoke about the spontaneity and joy that Pete was able to generate and lead on that hot Saturday night in July 1948.
Pete became quite famous and infamous after that convention. But he, like another hero of mine, Paul Robeson, was never, in the opinion of many, on the wrong side of justice, tolerance and peace. Pete will live forever in my memory, as long as it lasts, and in the memory of all who have an open vulnerability for peace and justice and what, from certain readings of history, may be regarded as lost causes.
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