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Date Created: 01/05/16
Alexis Darling Boswell English 12A 12/24/14 Civil Rights Movement Essay Home, property, respect, and liberty, all taken away in an instant. This destruction occurred often during the rage of the Civil Rights Movement. After years of being discriminated against, even beaten into slavery, African Americans fought in this crusade to gain greater equality. Despite blacks being allowed several rights through different acts, they had to continue the push with protests and powerful words because of the prevailing hatred in many of the white’s hearts. Many protests, especially by Martin Luther King Junior, remained nonviolent even through much violence from whites. Boycotts, marches, speeches, and sitins drew up tension and huge disturbances in many areas. In others, organizations such as the Black Panthers with leaders such as the strong Malcom X took to violence themselves to fight the injustice. Additional modes of pushing for African American rights included writing, theater, painting, and music (History.com). Even whites took to these arts to have a voice in the movement. Pete Seeger proved such a voice against discrimination through his controversial songs. Pete was born to Charles and Constance Seeger in Patterson, New York in 1919. Charles Seeger raised him with strong beliefs in pacifism, so strong that Charles quit teaching music at University of California at Berkeley because of his resulting enemies. Pete Seeger similarly spent time at a highly ranked school, leaving Harvard after two years before his finals in the spring of 1938. He ventured to New York where he worked for the Archives of American Folk Music and searched for legendary folksong writers. By 1940 he himself had become a wellknown musician, and in March he met with Woody Guthrie with whom he formed the Almanac Singers. In 1942, Seeger was drafted into World War II, but while on leave married Toshi Ohta who would assist in Seeger’s career. Also in 1948, Seeger toured the south with Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace. At the sight of the depression of the races in the south, Seeger was propelled to continue his fight for justice. His strong position led to the attack of his car in 1949 in which his wife and son were injured by the shattering glass. He later formed The Weavers with Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert, a band which gained great popularity and hatred. Seeger was subpoenaed by the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee in 1955 where he uniquely refused the Fifth Amendment. The next year Congress indicted him for contempt and he was jailed for one year with ten charges. Despite his unfair persecution, or even fueled by it, Seeger forced his views out for America, some receiving him positively and others contemptuously (Taskin, Richard). Throughout his life, Pete Seeger played a great role in breaking the harsh attitudes towards African Americans. With the Almanac Singers, he recorded labor songs and pacifist tunes, and with the involvement of the United States in World War II the Almanacs gained great popularity. The political radicalism of the group drew critics with controversial lyrics on immigrants and African American equality. As a singer protestor, Seeger received maltreatment from those who believed contrary to his stance. From the riot in the Peekskill, New York he co wrote with Lee Hay “If I Had a Hammer,” which spread an optimistic prophecy of what could happen with social change (Taskin, Richard). He created the People’s Songs collective in 1945, compiling The People’s Son Book, which presented “protest songs from around the world,” sponsored some powerful concerts, and created chapters in many cities to fight for civil rights (Dreier, Peter). Unfortunately, it could not stand longer than three years, but he soon moved onto The Weavers, who proclaimed rousing expectations and influenced the thinking of many Americans through their seeping words. Because of The Weaver’s controversial topics, they were blacklisted, Redbaited, and many times had to make last minute cancelations for performances (Taskin, Richard). In 1948 while traveling with Wallace, Seeger distributed song sheets so that he could lead singalongs (Dreier, Peter). By himself, Pete Seeger worked so powerfully that he was blacklisted and kept from appearing on ABC’s weekly television show, Hootenanny. But his aggressors could not put him out as he put out the song “We Shall Overcome,” which boomed into America (Taskin, Richard). His song resounded so greatly that it became “an anthem of the crusade for equality in America” (Taskin, Richard). The singalong lyrics gave hope and motivation to many, as they marched, held peaceful protests, or rallied. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote Seeger a personal letter to thank him for the moral support that he provided through his songs. His sight released optimism into many hearts, encouraging them to push on toward a futuristic goal. Because of Seeger’s work, a grand collection of folk songs still stands as a strong gathering of hope. Seeger revived folk music towards the purpose of the Civil Rights Movement (Dreier, Peter). Today, the nation still regards Pete Seeger as one of the powers that conquered “the shame of… racism” and rebuilt folk music in American pop culture (Ward, Brian). He proved how powerfully music can influence huge parts of societies and wage a war against important issues. Ultimately African Americans gained civil rights with the support of his words and reflective style. He created songs that people currently look back on to remember the efforts that won greater equality. Works Cited Dreier, Peter. “Pete Seeger Brought the World Together.” TheNation.com. 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Jan 2015, <http://www.thenation.com/article/178123/peteseegerbroughtworld together#>. History.com Staff. “Civil Rights Movement.” History.com, 2009. Web. 19 Dec. 2014. <http://www.history.com/topics/blackhistory/civilrightsmovement>. Library of Congress. “We Shall Overcome.” Loc.gov. Library of Congress, What. Web. 24 Dec. 2014. <http://www.loc.gov/teachers/lyrical/songs/overcome.html>. Taskin, Richard. “Life and Times of Pete Seeger.” Pete Seeger Appreciation Page. Biography, December 1995. Web. 20 Dec. 2014. <http://peteseeger.net/wp/?page_id=10>. Ward, Brian. ““People Get Ready”: Music and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.” GilderLehrman.org. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. n.d Web. 3 Jan. 2015. < http://www.gilderlehrman.org/historybyera/civilrights movement/essays/%E2%80%9Cpeoplegetready%E2%80%9Dmusicandcivilrights movement1950s>.
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