The Norman Transcript

February 2, 2014

Pete Seeger’s visit to Norman came with a price

By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — When retired OU professor Bob Goins learned of the death of 94-year-old folk singer Pete Seeger this past week, he went to his personal archives on a treasure hunt. There it was. After more than 50 years, a copy of a poster Goins created while an OU student promoting Seeger’s appearance in Norman.

He thinks it was in 1956 or 1957 because the concert came about the time Seeger and dozens of other writers and musicians were blacklisted by the U.S. Congress for alleged communist leanings. Goins had finished his time in the military in 1954 and was in graduate school.

The Oklahoma legislature was also sniffing around on campus in hopes of ferreting out those left-leaning professors.

“He (Seeger) was on the blacklist therefore the university wouldn’t let him come to the campus and perform,” recalls Goins, a Norman native who retired from the OU College of Architecture. “Joe McCarthy’s era had tainted much of the country.”

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That sentiment didn’t stop Goins and his friends from inviting Seeger to Norman. They followed his anti-war and pro-union music and heard Seeger was to perform in Stillwater. Perhaps they could entice him to Norman since he was in the state.

Yes, he would do a stopover in Norman, but the hosts would have to put up $200 and find a friendly venue. Between them, the friends couldn’t come up with $200. Goins, back from the Korean War, had recently purchased a 1954, two-tone Oldsmobile hard-top. He had an idea.

“I was really hooked on his music so I offered to mortgage my car at City National Bank,” Goins recalls. “I got my $200 back through ticket sales.”

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Seeger, born in New York, enrolled at Harvard but dropped out after a couple of years seeking work as a journalist. He decided composing songs was more fun than writing news stories and he traveled the country in pursuit of people who could teach him folk songs.

He met up with Oklahoman Woody Guthrie in 1940. They wrote songs as they traveled together to Guthrie’s hometown of Okemah. From there Seeger set off on a journey through the countryside, playing in bars to earn enough money to get him back to New York.

Seeger was drafted in 1942 and sent overseas to Saipan in 1944 where he entertained the troops in hospitals.

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The university, lead by Dr. George Cross, didn’t care to host Seeger at Holmberg Hall or inside the Oklahoma Memorial Union as the students suggested. So, the First Presbyterian Church offered up its basement for the performance.

Later, Seeger came back to campus after he had been cleared by Congress. While he was in New York City one day, Goins happened to walk by Carnegie Hall where Seeger was playing that night. They just happen to have a single ticket left.

“He was truly one of my heroes. He stood for fairness and justice,” said Goins.

Andy Rieger

editor@normantranscript.com

366-3543

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