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After 50 years, Seeger wins apology for 'ban'

School board finally says sorry for trying halt concert by left-wing folk 

By Guy Adams in Los Angeles

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Fifty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the folk musician Pete Seeger 
was given an ultimatum by the San Diego school board: sign an oath condemning 
communism, or cancel a concert he had planned at a local high school. 

The left-wing singer, famous for such protest songs as "Turn, turn, turn!" and 
"Where have all the flowers gone?" refused to sign. Soon, the future of his 
small gig had become an international cause célèbre. Eventually, a judge 
allowed it to proceed anyway. Today, with the controversy as distant a memory 
as the era of McCarthyism that spawned it, the school board has decided to 
finally forgive and forget: this week, its members voted to issue a public 
apology to the 89-year-old musician, which he has happily accepted.

In a resolution passed unanimously, its members said they "deeply regret" their 
predecessors' actions, and would like to formally extend the hand of 
forgiveness to a man now firmly established as "one of our dearest national 
treasures". The letter of apology was written by Katherine Nakamura, a San 
Diego Unified school board member who was inspired by seeing Seeger at Barack 
Obama's inauguration concert last month, where he sang "This land is your land" 
in a duet with Bruce Springsteen. 

In 1960, Seeger's performance at the 1,400-seat auditorium of Hoover High 
School was a sellout. But at the behest of the American Legion, the school 
board had ordered him to sign a pledge that his concert would not be used to 
either promote a communist agenda, or "overthrow" the US government. Seeger 
refused and, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued that the 
oath interfered with his rights to free expression, won an 11th-hour injunction 
forcing the school to honour its contract. 

"I was used to things like this, way back in what I call the Frightened 
Fifties," Seeger told reporters this week. "They were dangerous times." Five 
years before, he had refused to answer questions before the House Un-American 
Activities Committee, the notorious group which, inspired by Republican senator 
Joe McCarthy, was formed to "name and shame" those in show-business thought to 
harbour communist sympathies. 

Seeger had been a member of the Communist Party until 1949. Like many peers, he 
was "blacklisted" from major entertainment venues, and for years forced 
underground, performing in small clubs and school halls. The letter of apology 
offered Seeger, still a resolute left-winger, the chance to perform again at 
Hoover High. The musician said he would, with a track called "Take it from Dr 
King". The song is taken from his latest record At 89, which has won a Grammy 
for best traditional folk album.

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