MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is. I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don’t you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?
MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don’t want to hear about it.

MR. SCHERER: Let me understand. You are not relying on the Fifth Amendment, are you?
MR. SEEGER: No, sir, although I do not want to in any way discredit or depreciate or depredate the witnesses that have used the Fifth Amendment, and I simply feel it is improper for this committee to ask such questions.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you sing this song, to which we have referred, “Now Is the Time,” at Wingdale Lodge on the weekend of July Fourth?
MR. SEEGER: I don’t know any song by that name, and I know a song with a similar name. It is called “Wasn’t That a Time.” Is that the song?
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Did you sing that song?
MR. SEEGER: I can sing it. I don’t know how well I can do it without my banjo.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: I said, Did you sing it on that occasion?
MR. SEEGER: I have sung that song. I am not going to go into where I have sung it. I have sung it many places.

MR. TAVENNER: I want to know whether or not you were engaged in a similar type of service to the Communist Party in entertaining at these features.
MR. SEEGER: I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.
MR. SCHERER: There has been no answer to your last question.
MR. SEEGER: Would you repeat the question? I don’t even know what the last question was, and I thought I have answered all of them up to now.
(Whereupon the reporter read the pending question as above recorded.)
MR. SEEGER: “These features”: what do you mean? Except for the answer I have already given you, I have no answer. The answer I gave you you have, don’t you? That is, that I am proud that I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I have never refused to sing for anybody because I disagreed with their political opinion, and I am proud of the fact that my songs seem to cut across and find perhaps a unifying thing, basic humanity,and that is why I would love to be able to tell you about these songs, because I feel that you would agree with me more, sir. I know many beautiful songs from your home county, Carbon, and Monroe, and I hitchhiked through there and stayed in the homes of miners.

MR. TAVENNER: I hand you a photograph which was taken of the May Day parade in New York City in 1952, which shows the front rank of a group of individuals, and one is in a uniform with military cap and insignia, and carrying a placard entitled CENSORED. Will you examine it please and state whether or not that is a photograph of you?
(A document was handed to the witness.)
MR. SEEGER: It is like Jesus Christ when asked by Pontius Pilate, “Are you king of the Jews?”
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Stop that.
MR. SEEGER: Let someone else identify that picture.

MR. SEEGER: Why don’t you ask me about the churches and schools and other places?
MR. TAVENNER: That is very laudable, indeed, and I wish only that your activities had been confined to those areas. If you were acting for the Communist Party at these functions, we want to know it. We want to determine just what the Communist Party plan was.
MR. SCHERER: Witness, you have indicated that you are perfectly willing to tell us about all of these innumerable functions at which you entertained, but why do you refuse to tell us about the functions that Mr. Tavenner inquires about?
MR. SEEGER: No, sir, I said that I should be glad to tell you about all of the songs that I have sung, because I feel that the songs are the clearest explanation of what I do believe in, as a musician, and as an American.
MR. SCHERER: Didn’t you just say that you sang before various religious groups, school groups?
MR. SEEGER: I have said it and I will say it again, and I have sung for perhaps—
MR. SCHERER: You are willing to tell us about those groups?
MR. SEEGER: I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches, and I do this voluntarily. I have sung for many, many different groups—and it is hard for perhaps one person to believe, I was looking back over the twenty years or so that I have sung around these forty-eight states, that I have sung in so many different places.
MR. SCHERER: Did you sing before the groups that Mr. Tavenner asked you about?
MR. SEEGER: I am saying that my answer is the same as before. I have told you that I sang for everybody.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Wait a minute. You sang for everybody. Then are we to believe, or to take it, that you sang at the places Mr. Tavenner mentioned?
MR. SEEGER: My answer is the same as before.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is that?
MR. SEEGER: It seems to me like the third time I have said it, if not the fourth.
CHAIRMAN WALTER: Maybe it is the fifth, but say it again. I want to know what your answer is.
MR. SEEGER: I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.

For this, he was convicted on ten counts of contempt of Congress and sentenced to one year in jail. He never served, and the convictions were overturned seven years later.

“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”

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About the Author

Dave Lifton

The perpetually cranky Dave Lifton produces and co-hosts the Popdose Podcast and contributes an occasional column when he darn well feels like it. But mostly he eats Cheetos and yells at kids to get off his lawn, which is strange because he lives in an apartment. The guiding force behind LifStrong, he can be found on Twitter at @dslifton.

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