Pete Seeger – Folk Singer, Social and Environmental Activist

Pete Seeger, Stern Grove, San Francisco CA 8/6/78.
© Brian McMillen .  Used pursuant Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0 License.

Among the host of people who attribute their love of the outdoors to reading Ernest Thompson Seton’s books as a child or participating in Seton-influenced activities was the folk singer, playing the banjo and the 12-string guitar, and social activist, Pete Seeger (1919-2014).

Throughout life, Pete would comment on the impact reading Rolf in the Woods, Two Little Savages and other Seton books had on him.  “I was a great nature lover; I read every book by Ernest Thompson Seton. He wrote Rolf in The Woods and Two Little Savages. I made myself a tipi and camped out, adopted his philosophy whole-hog, namely that the American tribal Indian had a more democratic, wholesome moral life than the European society that displaced them. They shared things”.

Pete was a well-known figure in American folk music beginning in the 1940s.  He wrote a host of a well-known songs, ncluding such classics as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, “If I Had a Hammer”, and “Kisses Sweeter than Wine” and “Turn, Turn, Turn!”.  He was also one of the folksingers responsible for popularizing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome” in the Civil Rights movement in 1960s.

One of Pete Seeger’s many passionate interests was the environment.  Pete lived near the Hudson River in Fishkill in Dutchess County, New York, about 75 miles north of New York City.  He was a passionate supporter of efforts to clean and protect the Hudson and founded the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater and the Clearwater Festival to draw attention to the problem.  The efforts of Pete and other environmental activists led to passage of the federal Clean Water Act in 1972 and the designation of the river as a Superfund site in 1984.  Extensive remediation actions on the river began in the 1970s with the implementation of wastewater discharge permits and consequent control or reduction of wastewater discharges, and sediment removal operations, which have continued into the 21st century.

Pete wrote the introduction to The Storyteller:  My Years with Ernest Thompson Seton by Leila Moss Knox with Linda L. Knox, which was published in 2015, shortly after Seeger’s death in 2014.