When Pete Seeger died at age 94 this past January, widespread media coverage included discussion of his trials and tribulations during the McCarthy era when he, like so many other entertainers and artists, was persecuted, subjected to gross indignities, and ultimately prosecuted for Contempt of Congress during the myriad anti-Communist witch hunts of that time. Pete Seeger vs. the Un-Americans: A Tale of the Blacklist reveals never before known aspects of Seeger’s experience during those deark days, including the backstory to his prosecution for Contempt (orchestrated by, of all people, Robert Kennedy).
In refusing to answer questions posed by the House Select Committee on Un-American Activities (1955), and at the same time refusing to take the Fifth Amendment, Seeger consciously put himself in harm’s way of prosecution for Contempt – a brave act also embarked upon by such notables as playwright Arthur Miller, economist Otto Nathan, and the Hollywood Ten. Seeger’s eventual 1961 prosecution resulted in guilty verdicts on ten counts, and a one year prison sentence – a finding overturned on a technicality in the Court of Appeals one year later. Summed up, the threat of prison hung over Seeger’s head for a good seven years, from 1955 to 1962.
The story is also one of survival, endurance and eventual triumph. During the sixties – once McCarthyite hysteria subsided – Seeger’s career revived and bloomed. He recorded with Columbia Records for a decade, routinely played to sell-out crowds at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to London’s Royal Albert Hall, and looked on as such Seeger-penned songs as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “If I Had a Hammer” became hits respectively for the Kingston Trio, the Byrds and Peter, Paul & Mary.
Ed Renehan serves as managing director of New Street Communications and its subsidiaries Dark Hall Press and New Street Nautical Audio. Renehan is the author of many books, including The Secret Six (Crown, 1995), The Lion’s Pride (Oxford University Press, 1998), The Kennedys at War (Doubleday, 2002) and Dark Genius of Wall Street (Basic Books, 2006). His essays and reviews have appeared in such publications as the San Francisco Chronicle, Hearst’s Veranda, and the Wall Street Journal. Renehan was close friends with Toshi and Pete Seeger for more than four decades. (New Street Communications)