Pete Seeger, at W.T. Clarke
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“It was a brilliant gesture,” added Robinson, who was also 15 and a Valley Stream Central student.
Seeger had joined the Communist Party USA in 1942, and in the late 1950s he was blacklisted from American television for nearly 10 years.
Jackson recalled the political tension at the time, with the Vietnam War raging half a world away. “Our awareness of whether [the war] was good, bad or otherwise was becoming more sharply focused,” he said. “The political climate was really getting frothy.”
Leslie Packer, a 1966 East Meadow High School graduate, said he never got to attend the concert because he had left for college by the time it was rescheduled. But, he added, he was among 900 petitioners who pleaded to the Board of Education to let Seeger perform, to no avail until the Court of Appeals stepped in. “East Meadow was so conservative back then that they ridiculously tried to stop the concert because of his song ‘King Henry,’” Packer said.
According to the initial ruling by the Nassau County Supreme Court, an East Meadow School District staff member presented the superintendent with a clipping in November 1965 from a New York Times article, detailing Seeger’s Vietnam protest ballad in Moscow a month earlier. The superintendent conferred with the board, and on Nov. 23, the board met in executive session and unanimously decided to cancel the concert.
In upholding the board’s decision, the Supreme Court, in a ruling on Feb. 28, 1966, said that the board was within its right to revoke or cancel any reservation made in school facilities.
In May, a state appellate court ruled that the board’s revocation was “an unlawful restriction of the constitutional right of free speech and assembly.” Even so, it dismissed the appeal, determining that the issue was moot, since the time for the scheduled performance had passed.