A 1957 photo showing, left to right, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Seeger, Charis Horton, Rosa Parks, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. It is thought to be the only photograph of King, Seeger, Parks, and Abernathy together.
The school was a training ground for the civil rights movement. Parks herself trained in the library pictured above shortly before her fateful refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus in 1956, the act of civil disobedience that touched off the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Charis (pronounced with a hard “c”) is the daughter of the Highlander School‘s founder, Myles Horton, and of Zilphia Mae Johnson Horton, best known for having launched We Shall Overcome along its tortuous path from gospel hymn to iconic civil rights anthem. The library is said to be the place where King first heard the song.
Charis was my classmate at the Putney School, a Vermont boarding school founded on the teachings of John Dewey and the Progressive Education Movement. A fellow classmate brought a copy of the photo to our reunion last June. I do not know the photographer.
Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger died Tuesday night at her home at Beacon, NY. She was 91. Here’s how her grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, summed up her marriage to America’s most famous folksinger:
“Without my grandmother, there would be no Pete Seeger the way people understand it,” Rodriguez-Seeger said. “That’s not an exaggeration. She kept everything working so that he could focus on the world-saving, civil rights, anti-nukes, Clearwater – all of the projects that my grandfather worked on.”
A few years ago, Pete recorded these thoughts about his wife of 70 years, and her extraordinary family background:
Mark Moss, editor of Sing Out! magazine has a detailed reminiscence on the magazine’s website:
Oh, not that Rolling Stone article. One you weren’t expecting. Money quote:
Seeger switched to a 12-string guitar and began a hymn-like finger-picked version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He told the story behind the classic Wizard of Oz track, recounting how lyricist Yip Harburg and composer Harold Arlen held a successful two-man protest to get the studio to include the song in the film. Seeger looked up at the ceiling and apologized to the deceased Harburg for having to change the lyric “Why can’t I” to “Why can’t you and I?” and explained his logic: “If I’d been there when little Dorothy said, ‘Why can’t I?’ I’d tell her, ‘Dorothy, it’s because you only asked for yourself. You’ve got to ask for everybody, because either we’re all going to make it over that rainbow or nobody is going to make it.’ “
Hat tip: Ann Molison