Pete Seeger and Red Diaper Babies.

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A party for children of Smith Act defendants. That’s me in the suspenders on the left.

This has been quite a week for me and thinking about the old days.

On Tuesday’s Hitting Left with the Klonsky Brothers we had Mickey and Dick Flacks as our guests. That show is now on iTunes and other podcast platforms and will be rebroadcast on WLPN FM, 105.5fm and streaming at http://www.lumpenradio.com at our regular time on Friday, April 26th.

Mickey and Dick grew up in a family that was in some ways similar to mine, although they are a decade older than me.

They were Red Diaper Babies, kids of American communist parents.

Me too.

In their just published memoir, Making History Making Blintzes, Micky describes her childhood as being part alienation from the mainstream culture and part a sense of belonging to a vibrant and dynamic environment, a subculture of secular Judaism and left-wing politics.

Me too.

I was too young to feel the sense of anxiety that many Red Diaper kids felt who were slightly older than I was during the McCarthy era of the fifties.

It was always a presence.  I knew it was there.

Jobs lost. Divided families. FBI harassment. Congressional hearings. Names in the papers.

Yet, at such a young age I was only aware of it in a vague and peripheral sense.

I knew Dad was on trial as a Smith Act defendant along with ten other Philadelphia Communists Party members.  Mom was trying to create a family life that had a sense of normalcy in the midst of fear and chaos.

Still, I had marbles to play in the curbs of the streets of north Philly. I was busy with my fellow seven-year old neighborhood friends, wilding through Fairmount Park, skipping stones across or into the Schuylkill River.

And there were the other kids my age with parents just like mine. We were part of what made up that subculture of belonging.

They provided a level of social protection.

And we had the adults who shared the sense of social justice with my parents, and a vision of a future world. different than the one I was born into.

And so it seemed that in every house I went into,  including our own, were the symbols of our common culture.

A Ben Shahn print.

A drawn portrait of an African American by Charles White.

A record album by The Weavers, Paul Robeson or Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Familiar books on the shelves.

And then a hootenanny in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

Tomorrow we continue the memory trip with a tribute to Pete Seeger. Pete’s 100th birthday comes up May 5th.

Our guest on Hitting Left is Mark Dvorak, singer/musician/teacher at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music.

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Pete Seeger and Red Diaper Babies.

  1. OK, I came of age in the McCarthy era and though I understood that my Dad was a conservative Teamster, he thought Joe McCarthy was a bully and a blowhard My high school teachers also spoke against McCarthy. Which looking back had to have taken some courage in 1955 and ‘56. My Masters paper was on social class and McCarthy. It was good though there was an embarrassing degree of plagiarism. Thanks for sharing

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  2. Loved this post with the wonderful photo and great story of the RED DIAPER BABIES. You were lucky–and cute. Will play my Pete Seeger and Weavers’ cd’s on May 5 to celebrate his 100th birthaday. The world was never the same without him. If ever we needed someone like him, it’s now during these terrible days.

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