Sorry, Pete Seeger

After telling Pete Seeger back in 1960 that he had to sign an oath against communism or his show at a local high school auditorium would be canceled, the San Diego school district is offering the folk singer an apology.

The school district said Feb. 10 in a resolution approved 5-0 that the board “deeply regrets its predecessors’ actions” and said Seeger has become “one of our dearest national treasures.” He was also invited to return to San Diego to perform.

In 1960 the San Diego school board asked Seeger to pledge that the concert at Hoover High School would not be used to promote a communist agenda or an overthrow of the government – but Seeger refused because he wanted to stand up to McCarthyism.

The folk singer had already signed a contract with the district prior to its request for the oath and the show went on anyway.

Seeger, who dropped out of the Communist Party in 1949, had been under indictment for not answering questions from a congressional committee about whether he had Communist ties. He spent years being blacklisted and unwelcome at larger venues, forcing him to stick to playing shows at schools and small venues.

A judge said the 1960 show at the San Diego high school must go on despite Seeger not signing the oath after attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union filed a court motion two days before the concert asking for an injunction against the school district.

School board member Katherine Nakamura said she was inspired to write the apology resolution after seeing Seeger perform on the HBO special “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial” the weekend before President Barack Obama’s Jan. 6 inauguration.

Seeger joined Bruce Springsteen in singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”

“It just seemed to me to be the right thing to do, and I had an opportunity to do it,” Nakamura said. “He’s 89 years old, we’re lucky he’s still with us. You don’t always get a chance to reflect on these things and the way they might have been or should have been.”

Seeger said the board’s resolution is a “measure of justice that our right to freedom of expression has been vindicated.”
He said that the oath might have helped his career.

“This was the contradiction the poor blacklisters faced: The more they tried to target me the more they drummed up publicity for my concerts,” Seeger told the Associated Press. “I like to misquote Thomas Jefferson in saying, ‘The price of liberty is eternal publicity.’”