photo by Michael Cantor
(WARNING: You may find the images of death and violence contained below disturbing. Please do not scroll down if you do not wish to see them.)
photo by Michael Cantor
Pete Seeger turned 90 on May 3rd. They threw him a 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. He is an American icon, a national treasure that embodies the heart of the great American soul of liberty and justice for all.
For more than 70 years he has been singing about freedom, justice, civil rights, human rights, for the workers, for the environment. Wherever someone struggled for freedom in America, Pete was there. On Barack Obama’s Inauguration he sang with Bruce Springsteen and closed out the event with every stanza of “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. He fearlessly and to the glee of the revelers included the long unused stanza that called for the “breeching of the wall of private property.” He bounded off the stage like a man forty years younger. He was hugged and greeted by the new President.
He lives his beliefs as he sings them. When Senator Joe McCarthy and his dreaded House Un-American Activities Committee came after him, he refused to cooperate. He was blackballed and banned for ten years. He said “I don’t give a shit about my career.” When he returned, the Smothers Brothers brought him back to TV. He sang the anti-war and freedom folk song “Waste Deep in the Big Muddy.”
When he helped make Huddie Leadbetter’s, (aka Leadbelly’s), “Good Night Irene” into a hit, he made sure that Leadbelly got the royalties. He did the same for the family of Solomon Linda who wrote the African Freedom song that everyone sang in the fifties, sixties and seventies that became a rock‘n’roll hit, “Wimoweh.” He could have stolen the proceeds of the royalties and kept them for himself, as so many of the unscrupulous did to Black performers. Not Pete Seeger; he lives his life by his word, by work, by his politics, by his beliefs.
I first saw him as a young civil right worker singing with the Freedom Singers in Mississippi, a young Bob Dylan by his side. I grew up with his folk music because my mother always played him.
They say he has memorized more songs than any performer alive. Whenever he hears of a struggle for human rights in America, for the poor, for the infirmed, for our earth, he is there at 90. On his banjo, that he has had for over 60 years, are written the words “this Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender.”
He has become a sage. When asked why, in the face of so much opposition, of so many backward turns and some say the hopelessness of the causes he believes, why does he keep singing, pushing and fighting for justice, he gives a New Testament parable about a soldier who with his sword slashes open a bag of seeds. Some fall on the rocks and die, some seeds drown in the water, some are crushed under foot, but some fall onto fertile ground. They sink into the soil and grow a thousand fold. That is who we are he says. He knows the fight for freedom, for a just world is endless, and that every song we sing, every word we write, every story we tell, every oppression that is pushed aside brings more people to a better world and one day the fertile soil will win.
Peter Seeger, one of the few heroes I have in life …. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
Christina here – I'm one of the interns on the show, and wanted to spread the word about a piece of legislation making its way through the City Council that would have a huge effect on small performance venues in Baltimore City.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all, and to my Mom, wherever your spirit is floating around. I am sure you are having a Guinness and shot. She is the reason that I am so Irish. Well, she was Irish by immersion. Maisie Anne Round Steiner grew up in the north of England, the daughter of North Country miners and a Scotswoman of the MacPherson clan. She was a wild, unruly, alive renegade whose mother sent her to a Catholic convent (though she was Protestant of Baptist/Methodist roots) in the mountains of Wales. It turned out that the nuns were a bunch of Irish pro-IRA radicals who embraced my mom as she embraced them.
So we were brought up on the legends of ancient Irish warrior kings like Brian Baru, IRA revolutionaries like James Connolly, the first Jewish Mayor of Dublin Robert Briscoe and the great Irish poets and writers who graced our bookshelves. The nuns imbued in her a sense of social justice. As a young British woman she embraced the IRA, anti-colonial struggles and love for humanity and human rights. Her mother sent her away to be disciplined and straightened out, so she could act more like an English lady. Instead, she came back with the fire, soul and love of life of the Irish. She passed it on to her children and breathed it deeply with each breath she took. She found four leaf clovers and had conversations with the leprechauns and the spirits. Though Eire did not flow in her veins, it lived in the depths of her being.
Thanks Mom, for making me Irish. I’ll have a Guinness and a shot for you tonight.
Michael Steele is making numerous headlines today for his apology to Rush Limbaugh. Locally, he is also making headlines after being called out by Baltimore School's CEO Andres Alonso at a public forum which also featured Governor Martin O'Malley last night at Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore. Alonso demanded an apology from Steele for promises he made to that school in the past, which he never kept.
Our reporter Melody Simmons was there. Click the podcast player to hear her recording of Alonso's remarks on Steele, and also on Governor O'Malley.
Charles Blow, the visual op-ed columnist for the New York Times, is our guest today to discuss his most recent column titled "No More Excuses."
From The New York Times:
For the presidential inauguration, blacks descended on Washington in droves with a fanatical, Zacchaeus-like need to catch a glimpse of this M.L.K. 2.0. “Ooo-bama!” For them, he was it — a game changer, soul restorer, dream fulfiller. Everything. Ooo-K.
Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the majority whip, tapped into the fervor Monday night at the BET Honors awards in Washington when he proclaimed, “Every child has lost every excuse.”
What? That’s where I have to put my foot down. That’s going a bridge too far.
I’m a big proponent of personal responsibility, but children too often don’t have a choice. They are either prisoners of their parentage or privileged by it. Some of their excuses are hollow. But other excuses are legitimate, and they didn’t magically disappear when Obama put his left hand on the Lincoln Bible.
Representative Clyburn and those like him would do well to cool this rhetoric lest the enormous and ingrained obstacles facing black children get swept under the rug as Obama is swept into power. For instance:
• According to Child Trends, a Washington research group, 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. Also, black children are the most likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods. And, black teenagers, both male and female, were more likely to report having been raped.
• According to reports last year from the National Center for Children in Poverty, 60 percent of black children live in low-income families and a third live in poor families, a higher percentage than any other race.
• A 2006 report from National Center for Juvenile Justice said that black children are twice as likely as white and Hispanic children to be the victims of “maltreatment.” The report defines maltreatment as anything ranging from neglect to physical and sexual abuse.
Most of these kids will rise above their circumstances, but too many will succumb to them. Can we really blame them?
Malcolm Gladwell probably said it best in a November interview with New York magazine about his new book, “Outliers”: “I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be.”
So black people have to keep their feet on the ground even as their heads are in the clouds. If we want to give these children a fighting chance, we must change the worlds they inhabit. That change requires both better policies and better parenting — a change in our houses as well as the White House.
President Obama is a potent symbol, but he’s no panacea.
I have been thinking non-stop, as have many of you, about the Inauguration and coming Presidency of Barack Obama. Leaving behind for a moment all the political arguments from the left and right, from those who voted for him and those who did not, this is just an amazing moment. I look at the Obama family and can't keep from breaking out into a smile. We are facing the worst of times yet hope is the operative emotion that is coursing through the veins of this nation. You can read it in the latest polls but more importantly you can feel it when you listen to people, talk to your friends or when people of all stripes discuss this moment. I have never experienced anything close to this in political annals of our nation. The closest was JFK, maybe RFK but still, this moment is different.
Over the weekend I could not get Mack Parker out of my head. Who is Mack Parker? Fifty years ago he was lynched. He had been accused of raping a white woman. Subsequent investigations revealed he was most likely innocent. But that is not important. He was lynched by a white mob. White judges in Mississippi who were part of the White Citizen's Councils (a refined version of the KKK) refused to do anything about the crime. His brutalized chained body was found floating on the Pearl River ten days after the mob dragged him from his cell. I can only imagine the fear and pain he suffered.
When I was almost thirteen years old I opened a Life Magazine. The picture in the center of the Magazine was of a pair of work boots neatly placed under a cot in a prison cell. They were Mack Parker's boots left behind where he put them before a mob dragged him out to be tortured, mutilated and murdered.
I kept that picture on my wall for years. It haunted me. It reminded me why I fight for a new America that belongs to all of her citizens, breathing in, and living, the same air of equality.
Now Barack Obama is standing there fifty years later, an African American man about to become President of the United States of America. Many people have written that just because we have elected an African American President of the United States of America does not mean that racism will end. They are right, but I deeply believe that it is having and will have a profound effect on American consciousness.
It is an amazing time. I can't believe we are here. The hope is palpable. Let it be real.
What are you feeling now?