February 5th, 2014
Pete Seeger Leaves Mother Earth Spinning Out of Control
By Curt Stewart
BEACON - At 12:20 p.m. today, Sunday, February 2, 2014, I departed Libby’s Funeral Home in Beacon, on Teller Avenue, having gone there to bid goodbye to my close friend for 40 years or more, Pete Seeger. Late Tuesday evening, January 27, 2014, Pete left Columbia Presbyterian Hospital here in New York City and went on a long un-returned Journey—gone to join his very beautiful wife, Toshi, who had gone on her un-returned journey back in July of 2013.
Pete was not just my good friend and a good friend of African Americans throughout this country, but was my fellow artist, mentor, comrade, and a surrogate father as well. He’d helped me to jump-start the Hudson Valley Freedom Theatre in the mid-Hudson Valley-calling on Ossie Davis, Harry Belafonte, Harry Chapin, Don McClean, and so many others in the late 70s, to lend the theatre a helping hand.
When the Tawana Brawley case imploded on the national political landscape, I called on Pete to give Tawana and her family a helping hand. Without asking questions, he agreed-unambiguously letting the world know he believed that the little black girl had been sexually assaulted. He went to jail for two weeks in Albany with Reverend Al Sharpton, in protest of the assault on the little black girl.
Though I did not see Pete for almost two decades, I did keep in touch with him-from time to time giving him a call—first talking with Toshi, telling her how so much I loved her and appreciated all she’d done for me and black people, and I would soon see her. I would then speak with Pete, talking at great length about the state of the world-- telling him that soon I would be coming to see him and Toshi. Each time I did, he would tell me to come and chop some wood with him. I would tell him I would, but never got the chance.
Months after speaking with the two, Toshi passed- making me feel real bad that I did not make it to Beacon in time to see her for the last time. I increased my calls to Pete, telling his daughter in September of 2013, I was coming to visit with Pete on October 7th, if that was okay with him and her. I was getting inducted into Beacon High School Hall of Fame, along with my 1964 basketball teammates, and thought this would be a good time to visit with Pete. His daughter would tell me it was a good time. I took my friend Ray Harrison along with me.
When I laid eyes on Pete, I choked up, as it had indeed been a long time since I laying eyes on him. He was having his breakfast, a simple plate of salad when we arrived. He’d aged, could barely hear, but his mind was still as sharp as a razor blade. Wasting no time taking us on a marathon journey in history, would he finally wind it down-throwing in some abbreviated biographical expose-pieces on W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King, President Lyndon Bain Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover.
Before we got back in the car to leave, I embraced Pete; while holding onto him, I told him how so much African Americans loved him and Toshi, to which his eyes lighted up like two beaming light bulbs. When I began to back my car out of his yard, he stood there like a little innocent boy-waving to us goodbye. The most salient feature of Pete was his innocence-his pureness as a human being. I promised him that I would be in attendance at Toshi’s memorial service at the Society for Ethical Culture in New York City-and I was. This was the last time I would lay eyes on Pete.
When the Hudson Valley Freedom Theatre returned from the United States Supreme Court in 1986, having filed a racial discriminatory lawsuit against Orange County Government, with the lower court throwing the case out-claiming the theatre could not claim racial discrimination under the 1964 Civil Right Act, the theatre, under the counsel of William Kunstler and Dr. C. Vernon Mason, appealed the decision-winning at the appellate level-- going on to win in the United States Supreme Court-setting precedent law in the country-- making it so that black and non-white corporations could claim protection under the 1964 Civil Right Act. Learning of this historic development, Pete said to me “Curt, you are one of the reason why the world is still intact today.”
This compliment was never lost on me. The night Pete passed, I had a beautiful and peaceful dream about him and Toshi-- one of the longest dreams I’d ever had. The very next morning, I tried my best to reach him, but no one answered the phone. The very next morning, I would receive a call from my brother at the Hudson Valley Black Press- giving me the sad news about one of the world’s greatest human being to ever walk the earth.
The reason I’d tried to reach Pete, because a few days early on, I’d spoken with him, telling him that my daughter and I were coming to see him—to which he expressed happiness-telling me he’d been sick. He’d always enjoyed my daughter and she enjoyed him. I was calling him to set up the appointment for the three of us to reunite—but to no avail.
Having stepped off the earth, Pete, a mega-ton of human weight, left the earth spinning and turning upside down—reeling out of control. But he did not want to leave the world this way. Those of us who knew him know this is true. His sudden exodus from the earth-to which he had no control, dictated this upheaval on earth. If he could return and bring back balance, form and control to the earth, he would-just to make sure we would be safe and at ease.
But let us not be unfair to Pete. We all know that human nature will not allow him to return and do such. What we must instead do for ourselves, and ultimately for Pete, is to work together on earth-collectively amassing another meg-ton of human weight—at least equaling that mega-ton of weight, embodied in the man we all called Pete Seeger-returning Mother Earth back to its balance and form—back in control. Pete has indeed gone on to be with whom he deemed his better half, Toshi-so let us give him some space and time with her, for he, as a man, has been on Mother Earth, as had Toshi , a woman, a good and whole man; a great and spectacular man!