On Friday I had a quick chat on the topic of American heroes with a student whom I'll call Noah (since that was his name). My choice is Pete Seeger, the great folk singer, activist, and peace lover. Pete's been on my mind because of our civil liberties discussions, because of the recent Animoto™ in class that featured Pete's friend Woody Guthrie singing This Land Is Your Land, and because of a recent NPR piece, profiling his extra-ordinary life spanning 93 years (and counting!).
In this post, I'd like to hear about the American heroes you admire and why. If you can, please provide examples of their heroism. I'll go first:
I first heard Pete when my wife — then my college girlfriend —
and I went on our first date to...where else? A Pete Seeger concert! But Pete's not
just a folk music hero in my house; he's also a man of tremendous principle, who has truly lived his convictions. Some examples: He married a Japanese
woman in the 1940's when our country was throwing over a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans (most U.S. citizens) in prison camps. He fought tirelessly for civil rights, singing
with the great African-American baritone, Paul Robeson, when it nearly
cost him his life. He inspired many famous civil rights leaders,
including Julian Bond, who credits Seeger for opposing Jim Crow laws long before "the Movement" really got underway. Pete even wrote some of the
lyrics to "We Shall Overcome." He fought for unions and for the common working
man — and woman (since he also advocated equality among the sexes). Check out his song "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer" on our homepage virtual iPod (below, right column). Last, Seeger traveled the world, recording and archiving world music like no one had ever done
For these actions he was branded a Communist and
banned from appearing on TV for 17 years just when he had reached the
height of his popularity. When the ban was finally lifted he shocked
everyone by singing an anti-Vietnam War song called "The Big Muddy."
Since then he has sung to end apartheid in South Africa and almost
single-handedly galvanized efforts to clean-up the Hudson River. He's
93 now, but as recently as three years ago he was nominated for yet another Grammy Award in the category of folk music.