Blogging about Beats, tween fiction, parenting tweens, rebels, rule breakers, historical 1950s fiction and an 11-year-old who wants to meet Jack Kerouac.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Be Like Pete
Greenwich Village, 1958. Sky's place. I first heard “We Shall Overcome” at a
party, picked out by Pete Seeger, who I’d follow anywhere, tell you the truth.
He learned it from the civil rights activist Zilphia Horton. I know it was first
composed in 1903 by Pastor Charles Tindley, and people kept on teaching it to each other. 'Course, Pete changed it up a bit and added a
I taught the kids to sing it, along with
a lot of other songs, because who else has the time? Sophie’s mom is at work,
Nell and Gary are working too, and Gordy’s parents are always busy. Besides, I’m the
teacher—at least, they want me to be.
Don’t know that “We Shall Overcome” is
one of Ruby’s favorites—she and Sophie like the Lead Belly tune “Goodnight Irene” a lot and “The Hammer Song.” (Ray won't tolerate folk songs for more than 30 seconds, so we tend to leave him be.) I want ‘em all to know more than the music, though, and I tell ‘em a
lot of these songs are what you call protests. Against war, waste and cruelty.
I think they get it, too. When they
joined up with the protesters across the street, Blu and I were so proud.
Watching them march around saying “Ban the Bomb!” did my heart proud; I just
wish the police hadn’t swooped in so fast. Course they were after Ruby for
something else, but I’m still proud of her.
Blu and I talked a lot about the Bomb;
what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I know sometimes when we talk about history
the kids start getting bored, but they listened real close to what happened in
Japan. We read John Hersey’s book Hiroshima
too—and they’re still talking about it.
You know Mr. Seeger’s dad was a conscientious
objector during World War I, don’t you? Meaning he sat that one out. Pete was
drafted in 1942 and served in the South
Pacific, mostly performing for the troops. Lives upstate now, and one of these
days I’m going to take the kids to see him sing.
House on Un-American Activities went
after him in ’55, of course, accusing him of being a Communist. He put ‘em in
their places though, refused to answer their questions, and they cited him for
contempt. I told the kids about that, too. I want them to know you have to
stand for something. That’s what Pete Seeger does, and he stands tall, come what
I think they understand—at least Ruby
does. Of all three, she’s the one I’m closest to. ‘Course you’re not going to
tell ‘em that.
See, a lot of Beats around here think all they need
to do is hide away on Bleecker Street, write poetry or paint or whatever. I’m with the
side that says we have to change things, make things better for the ones who
will come after us.
I want Ruby to keep writing her poetry.
But I want her to be like Pete Seeger and John Hersey, too. I hope she will be.