On 18 August 1955 Pete Seeger testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
Seeger refused to take the Fifth Amendment, but also refused to acknowledge the right of the Committee to ask him questions about his political affiliations, or the names of other people.
“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,” Seeger said.
“I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any
conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the
implication of being called before this Committee that in some way
because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis [D-LA],
or yours, Mr. Scherer [R-OH], that I am any less of an American than anybody
else. I love my country very deeply, sir.
CHAIRMAN FRANCIS E. WALTER [D-PA]: Why don’t you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?
MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don’t want to hear about it.
The committee then tried to question Seeger about where he performed, and if he ever performed, citing Elia Kazan’s testimony regarding the Communist Party’s wish to have American entertainers perform for them. Seeger replied, “I feel these questions are improper, sir, and I feel they are immoral to ask any American this kind of question… . 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
Pete Seeger found guilty of contempt of Congress (and faced 10 years in prison) but
successfully appealed his case, which was overturned in 1962. Seeger was also blacklisted – his songs not played on the radio and he could not appear on TV – for 17 years.
If you read the whole transcript, he also offered several times to sing for them, saying they could then judge for themselves whether his songs were political. They refused, which was probably sensible of them, because I will bet my car that he was trying to get them to join in a sing-along about peace and love. In the universe where that happened, I’m convinced it went absolutely viral and changed the course of Cold War history.
…god, I love this man. ^_^ I named myself after him, you know.
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