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On Our Radar – The Passing Of A Civil Rights Legend

by Jean Ann Esselink on February 2, 2014

in Celebrities,Civil Rights,Jean Ann Esselink,News,On Our Radar

Post image for On Our Radar – The Passing Of A Civil Rights Legend

There is a scene in To Kill A Mockingbird, when Atticus Finch has just lost the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman who was quite obviously lying out of fear of her brute of a father. The lower level of the courtroom quickly empties of the white observers, off to spread the news of the verdict. But the black spectators in the balcony remain in their seats, silent, stunned, yet not really surprised.

In the balcony with the black community are the Finch children. Jem, and Scout – Jean Louise – who is crouched on the floor, staring at her father through the wooden railing, realizing she doesn’t really know him at all. And as they wait for Atticus to make his exit, every last person of color in that balcony stands up. There are no words exchanged. Atticus gives one brief glance up at the balcony, but never breaks stride. But as he exits the courtroom, one dignified black man admonishes Scout,who is still seated on the floor. “Miss Jean Louise.” He chides her. “Miss Jean Louise! Stand up! Your father’s passing.” And invested in that word “father” is the respect every person in that balcony felt toward Atticus Finch.

The passing of Pete Seeger has me feeling a little like Scout, looking at a vaguely familiar man making his exit, but seeing him through new eyes – the eyes of people to whom he was a hero – wishing I’d paid more attention.

Maybe, like Alby Jay, (LBJ) I had “beans in my ears”.

There are a lot of very good reasons that I should not comment on the passing of Pete Seeger, not the least of which is I get him confused with Woody Guthrie .

And Phil Ochs. Sometimes Willie Nelson.

seegerPete Seeger wasn’t really from my generation. Everyone has their own magic musical period, when the lyrics seems to speaks directly to the heart, and the melody lodges forever in the brain, and he was always on the periphery, but wan’t really in mine. For me, that time begins with Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby Stills and Nash and Joni Mitchell and dies with disco. I didn’t feel my life had been touched by Pete Seeger in any meaningful way. I remember ticky-tacky boxes, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone, though more through Peter Paul and Mary than Pete Seeger, but I certainly can’t claim I treasured him in the same way those just a few years older than me do. It seemed their place to speak, not mine.

And then something happened to change my mind. A memory: Michigan State University. Student Union. Sitting on the floor in my bell-bottom jeans and my American flag T-shirt, next to the cute long haired boy in the faded army jacket – singing “We Shall Overcome.” And with that memory came the realization I was wrong about Pete Seeger’s life not touching mine.

pete seegerPete Seeger did not write We Shall Overcome, but it will always be his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. He adopted the old slave spiritual, changed “will” to “shall” and it became the anthem of a movement. He was the voice of the very movement we seek to expand here.

How could a site named “The New Civil Rights Movement fail to mark his passing?

Bruce Springsteen made this introduction of Pete Seeger on the occasion of his 90th birthday. It doubles all too well as the perfect eulogy now that he is gone. I hope you’ll take a moment to watch. Maybe even sing a chorus of We Shall Overcome next time you are in the shower, although with the state of affairs in the LGBT community today, maybe “We Are Overcoming” would be a better lyric.

Rest in Peace Pete Seeger. Today, your Civil Rights legacy is On Our Radar.

Name the Tappan Zee Bridge For Pete Seeger
Name the Hudson River after Pete Seeger.


Boat and musician photo via Facebook
Feature Photo via Facebook

tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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LOrion February 2, 2014 at 3:53 pm

(So that only took me 15 different tabs to have Wordpress let me comment..but what the hey! .I still cant even get close on mobile!)
ANYWAY… Wonderful as usual Jean Ann. For me he was in dim past too, until I followed every day of Occupy Wall Street and every foot of his talk and walk and songs on that wonderful 2011 night!

LOrion February 2, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Okay, watched tribute after sharing, should have expected it..but TISSUE ALERT! Thanks again Jean Ann.

tgflux February 3, 2014 at 1:51 am

"I remember ticky-tacky boxes"

FYI, that was by Malvina Reynolds (yours is the second person to make that mistake since Pete's passing).

Sometimes the good *don't* die young. RIP, Pete: so long, it's been good to know ya…

uncucumbered February 3, 2014 at 9:18 am

The Ticky Tacky house song was recorded by Pete Seeger. Musicians are very often known for songs they didn't write and others also recorded. Malvina Reynolds was superfluous to the story.

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