BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
Last Monday's Martin Luther King Day celebration in this quiet upstate New York town was very special, but not as special as hoped. Legendary folk singer and political activist Pete Seeger was originally scheduled to lead an eight block march from the Springfield Baptist Church, starting at 9 AM, with marchers joining him singing songs like "We Shall Overcome," "Oh, Wallace," and "If You Meet Me At The Back Of The Bus."
However, the 94 year-old Seeger had been recently missing meetings and scheduled rehearsals which led to rumors that health problems may prevent his appearance at the march he helped organize.
Nevertheless, shortly after nine, an announcement was made over the church's PA system that, "Mr. Seeger will be showing up by car in ten minutes," which was greeted with massive cheering , but another announcement soon afterward stated that he wouldn't be attending after all.
Despite the disappointment of many, the assembled throng, estimated at around 1200 people, braved the cold, joyously singing, playing acoustic guitars, banging on percussive instruments, carrying signs, while walking around the church block.
While Seeger was not physically present, his spirit was definitely felt throughout the event.
Seeger, who marched with Dr. King several times back in the 1960s, and who has long championed civil rights, recently spoke with me about his feelings regarding racism.
"People are afraid of anyone who looks a little bit different ... speaks another language," he stated, with the wisdom of his many years. "It's standard human nature to trust people who look like you, but to not trust people who don't. They say that suspicion is our greatest enemy. The astonishing thing is that, within different groups, there can be great trust and friendship."
Pete, let’s hope we’ll all be together in another year, for Dr. King’s next birthday celebration.