Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Pete Seeger: American Hero

Since we've been thinking about life stories this quarter and since we also considered the pantheon of New Trier's Hall of Fame, I started thinking about my American heroes. My top choice is Pete Seeger, the great folk singer, activist, and peace lover. Pete recently sang at Farm Aid alongside Eddie Vedder, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp -- a feat all the more amazing when you consider that Pete Seeger is 94 years old!  You may already know about his work with his buddy,Woody Guthrie, who wrote This Land Is Your Land. You can learn more about Seeger on a recent NPR piece, profiling his extra-ordinary life.

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). And think about the stories that women are able to tell.  Last, Seeger traveled the world, recording and archiving world music like no one had ever done before.

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 94 now, but as recently as four years ago he was nominated for yet another Grammy Award in the category of folk music.


Josh Sussman said...

One of my American heroes is definitely Jonas Salk. Salk as I'm sure you all know is famous for inventing the polio vaccine. In the years following the invention, the number of polio cases decreased dramatically: there were 23,091 less cases of polio in the U.S. between 1955 and 1957. The amazing affect of Salk's invention changed the lives of countless Americans and I don't want to imagine what would have happened if he didn't find the cure. Salk wanted everyone to have access to the vaccine, so he decided not to patent it. Another reason Salk stands out to me as a hero is because he never stopped trying to help people. He spent the last years of his life researching to find a vaccine for AIDS. Salk took great risks like testing his original polio vaccine on his family, but I feel that they paid off and then some.

Carolyn D. said...

Oprah Winfrey has always been an American hero in my mind. There are many admirable things that she has done, and many admirable things that she has overcome to be the person she is today. First of all as many know she grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi and later urban Milwaukee. She was sexually abused as a young girl, and was pregnant at age 14. After such a traumatic childhood, she still raised to fame and success. To me this is one of the most iconic American values. The fact that no matter who you are, or what you come from, you can succeed. It also is very influential the way the Oprah was, and still is such a prominent female success story. There isn't much attention drawn to female success stories in business and wealth, and yet Oprah's story is. Interestingly enough after being sexually abused, an act that probably demoted her female self confidence. Her success in life, as well as her charitable donations and the excessive amount of time she spends giving back, makes her my American hero.

Shannon said...

My American hero is a person whom I won't name for personal reasons but her work is so important to me and many others and I would not be who I am today without her. She is my favorite middle aged Jewish lady.

Alex Wyse said...

I know its a bit of a cliche, but my American heroes are all the veterans who have fought for America in wars. I tried to think of a specific person I knew (besides relatives) that was a vet, but I couldn't. This is probably because vets are not appreciated enough. In fact, we were talking in class the other day about how it is not unusual for veterans to be homeless. Vets actually have a higher chance of being homeless than an average american does. I find this statistic absolutely horrifying. It shows how little appreciation vets receive. It is truly awful to think that these men and women have put their lives on the line for our safety and well-being and yet we are still letting them live on the street. Furthermore, someone brought up the point in class that vets are often not wanted for jobs because employers fear that they will develop problems relating to their traumatic experiences in the war. It is sad to think that we show this type of reaction to people who have done so much for us. Vets are not thanked enough for what they do, and for that reason they are my american heroes; they risk their lives for people who might not even recognize their sacrifices.