1955 August 18

Pete Seeger Asserts First Amendment Right at HUAC Hearing


Folk singer Pete Seeger took the First Amendment rather than the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions about his political beliefs before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on this day. This was a courageous act because, at that time, there was no law or court decisions establishing a First Amendment right not to answer questions before a legislative investigating committee. Seeger was cited for contempt of Congress as a result. He was convicted for his refusal to answer HUAC’s questions, but the conviction was eventually overturned.

Contempt of Congress indictments became a heavy weapon against alleged subversives during the Cold War. While it had rarely been used before World War II, HUAC issued 21 contempt citations in 1946, 14 in 1947, and 56 in 1950. All other House Committees in those years issued a total of only 6 contempt citations.

Seeger’s problems because of his left-wing political associations continued into the 1960s, when he was barred from some television programs. See January 2, 1962, and September 14, 1963. Pete Seeger died on January 27, 2014, at age 94.

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.”

Read the biography: David King Dunaway, How Can I Keep from Singing (1981)

Listen to Seeger Sing If I Had a Hammer (1963)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HE4H0k8TDgw

Learn more about Pete Seeger: http://peteseeger.net/wp/

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