My Take on Pete Seeger

Judson L. Jeffries, PhD

Arguably the most influential folk singer (even more so than Woody Guthrie) of twentieth century America, Pete Seeger, died on January 27, 2014 at a New York City hospital where he had been admitted several days earlier. As someone who collects vinyl, not CDs, I have several of Seeger’s albums including my personal favorite Dangerous Songs!?, released in 1966. To say that Seeger, an artistic maestro, was to the manner born is British understatement. His father, the Harvard-trained composer, reportedly not only established the first musicology curriculum in the U.S. in the early 1900s, but was instrumental in developing ethnomusicology as a discipline. Seeger’s mother was a concert violinist and taught at the Institute of Musical Art (later named the Julliard School). While Seeger is commonly associated with the 1960s, his career spanned seven decades starting in the early 1940s. His activism however began in the mid-1930s when he joined the Young Communist League as a teenager. Later, during World War II he joined the Communist Party USA although by 1950, feeling disillusioned, he cut ties with the organization.

Seeger’s combination of music and protest is, in some sense, rooted in a long tradition of old Negro spirituals as Blacks as early as 1619 used song as not only a means to express what they could not say directly, but to defy those who created the circumstances under which they were forced to live. Seeger loved the Blues, and he was heavily influenced by the legendary Blues singer Huddie William Ledbetter aka Leadbelly whom Alex Haley called “the Mount Everest of blues singers.” Seeger’s list of credits, those he sang as well as those he wrote for others combined issues of human rights, civil rights and worker’s rights; and many were not without controversy. One of Seeger’s earliest controversial recordings was Songs for John Doe, which was highly critical of the Roosevelt administration; it came as a member of a collaborative effort known as the Almanac Singers, a group founded by him and Woody Guthrie along with several others. Among the record’s lines was “Franklin Roosevelt is leading an unwilling people into a J.P. Morgan war.” When Roosevelt was made aware of the controversial song, it is reported that he quipped “few people will ever hear it.” Not coincidentally, the recording was removed from store shelves across the country and destroyed. Interestingly, one year later, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the Almanacs extended an olive branch in the form of Dear Mr. President. This song contained such lines as “So, Mr. President, we got this one big job to do, that’s lick Mr. Hitler and when we’re through, let no one else ever take his place, to trample down the human race, so what I want is you to give me a gun so we can hurry up and get the job done.”

By the end of the 1940s, Seeger was accompanying Henry Wallace around the country as part of his 1948 presidential campaign. Like many left-leaning public figures of the 1950s, Seeger was targeted by the Joe McCarthys of the world, as he was summoned before the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1955. Under questioning by members of HUAC on August 18, Seeger exclaimed “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsions as this.” Seeger’s stance resulted in being blacklisted for many years, yet like his friend Paul Robeson, Seeger never relented and his activism never waned. Throughout the 1960s Seeger could often be found at marches and civil rights demonstrations throughout the south.

In the late 1960s, Seeger was one of the music industry’s most vocal critics of the war in Vietnam. Indeed, during that period President Lyndon Baines Johnson would find himself in Seeger’s crosshairs when Seeger used an appearance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to proffer a scathing attack on the president and the Vietnam War via his 1967 album Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and other Love Songs. Although Seeger would not enjoy the same level of notoriety in subsequent decades his impact on the music industry is indisputable. Among those influenced by Seeger are Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Tracy Chapman to name a few.

Born one year after World War I Seeger died at the ripe old age of 94 and leaves behind a legacy unmatched by any other twentieth century American folk singer.

Richard Sherman incident — criticize, but without racial stereotyping: Guest commentary

By Renford Reese, PhD

I watched the NFL’s National Football Conference Championship post-game interview with Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Fox News’ Erin Andrews with great interest.

Sherman, the NFL’s best cornerback, is known as a “Smacktalk Poet.” His much-talked-about interview rant with Andrews, which denigrated San Francisco 49er wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, was the impetus for a fire storm of criticism directed toward Sherman — and much of this criticism was race-based.

When Erin Andrews was asked about Sherman’s rant, she responded, “You expect these guys to play like maniacs and animals for 60 minutes and then 90 seconds after he makes a career-defining, game-changing play, I’m gonna be mad because he’s not giving me a cliché answer…No you don’t. That was awesome. That was so awesome. And I loved it.”

Many labeled Sherman a thug and characterized him with the usual adjectives reserved for young black men in the United States.

But Sherman is not a stereotype. He is an enigma, an iconoclast. He graduated second in his class at Manuel Dominguez High School in Compton with a 4.2 grade point average and went on to graduate with a degree in communications from Stanford. His credentials do not match those of a thug.

When he spoke to “Inside NFL’s” Lee Jenkins about Stanford and stereotypes, he stated, “I was strange because I went to class, did the work, read the books and was still pretty good at sports. If you’re like me, people think you’re weird. They pull you in different directions. But those people aren’t going where you’re going.

“I know the jock stereotype — cool guy, walking around with your friends, not caring about school, not caring about anything. I hate that stereotype. I want to destroy it. I want to kill it.”

Sherman combines charisma, wit, and a braggadocios persona with something else. And, it seems to be that “something else” that intrigues some and repulses others.

Tens of thousands of young black men perform in college and professional sports annually. Fans energetically support and, in some cases, obsess over their favorite black players — wearing their jerseys to games and consistently singing their praises.

However, there is a behavioral code for these warriors. And anytime, they do not adhere to this behavioral code they are immediately labeled thugs, irrespective of their credentials. These knee-jerk reactions are simplistic and counterproductive.

Sherman was aware of the irony that many of the racially charged responses to his rant came on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We should be at a point in America in which we can critique a person’s behavior without infusing a racial dimension to it.

If Sherman was crass call him crass, if he was arrogant call him arrogant, if his statements lacked sportsmanship, say they lacked sportsmanship. But, the summation of all these descriptions does not equate to blackness.

Minutes before Sherman made his game-saving play, white Seattle Seahawks fans threw objects on the field at an injured 49er player. Does this behavior equate to whiteness?

Like Sherman, at some point, we all get emotional, angry, challenged, and hyped up. And these emotions are manifested in a myriad of ways that do not reflect our skin hue.

Consequently, we should resist racial labeling, because stereotypes oversimplify human behavior.

Renford Reese, Ph.D. is a political science professor at Cal Poly Pomona. He is the author of five books and the founder/director of the Prison Education Project:

Richard Sherman and His Rant in Context

By: Judson L. Jeffries, PhD

Richard Sherman plays cornerback for the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. At 6’3”, 200 lbs., Sherman is the prototypical NFL defensive back. Known for his playmaking ability, he’s a stout run defender and often plays press coverage at the line of scrimmage. If Sherman has a shortcoming, it is his speed clocking in at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. A Deion Sanders, Darrell Green or Dominique Rodger-Cromartie he is not. Still, what Sherman lacks in that department he makes up for in intelligence, physicality and athleticism.

On Sunday with time winding down and the game on the line, Sherman thwarted the 49ers comeback when he batted away a Colin Kaepernick pass that was intended for Michael Crabtree on a fade route in the corner of the end zone. The play was the kind that pro bowl cornerbacks (which Sherman surely is) are expected to make, but don’t always do, especially in crunch time. The play was the kind that can define a player’s career; that cultivates legacies; that gets replayed over and over by NFL films. Think Lynn Swann catching a pass from Terry Bradshaw in Super Bowl X while tumbling to the ground with Dallas’ Mark Washington draped all over him or Dwight Clark’s leaping grab (aka The Catch) over Everson Walls in the 1982 NFC championship game propelling the 49ers to the Super Bowl that year where they bested the Cincinnati Bengals for the first of the franchise’s five Lombardi Trophies.

Anyway Pro Bowl corners who consistently make the kind of play that Sherman made are typically rewarded with a bust in Canton, Ohio long after their careers have ended. Seconds after the play, Sherman trotted towards Crabtree who was heading to his team’s sideline. After catching up to him Sherman patted Crabtree on the backside, uttered something and extended his hand, displaying an act of sportsmanship. But Crabtree would have none of that; understandably so. Crabtree’s response: he placed his hand on Sherman’s helmet and pushed him away as if to say “Get the f_ _k outta here with that.” A short while later ESPN reporter Erin Andrews attempted to interview Sherman and what she got was raw unadulterated emotion. Said Sherman, “Don’t ever talk about me, you open your mouth . . .  I’ll shut it real quick” exclaimed Sherman. How dare the 49ers throw the ball to a “sorry receiver” like Crabtree and expect to burn me Sherman lamented . . . “I’m the best DB in the gaaaaaaame.”

The best corner in the game . . . well that’s debatable.  Among the games’ top five defensive backs, yes, but the best? Until someone shows me otherwise that distinction belongs to Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis.  Andrews, seemingly flummoxed asked Sherman, rather innocuously if not naively, “who was talking about you?” “Crabtree” yelled Sherman. Sherman’s remarks to Ed Werder, a more seasoned reporter were equally spirited. There’s, undoubtedly, a back story between Sherman and Crabtree to which neither Andrews and Werder nor the viewing public is privy. Despite Sherman’s protestations, however, Crabtree is not a “sorry receiver” or as Sherman exhorted later a “mediocre receiver at best.” What Crabtree is, is a good receiver with a tremendous upside who has yet to live up to the hype that came with being the tenth player taken in the 2009 NFL draft. Crabtree was considered the best wideout among a deep class that included Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt and Mike Wallace. Few students of football would dispute this, and Sherman was reminding everyone of that.

Beefs among wide receivers and defensive backs are not new. One of the most famous involved George Atkinson of the Oakland Raiders and Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the mid 1970s Atkinson repeatedly used the word soft when referencing Swann during interviews. In 1976 Atkinson clobbered an unsuspecting Swann in the back of the head with a forearm knocking the star receiver of out the game. Atkinson had treated him similarly the previous year in the AFC Championship game. The Atkinson-Swann tiff not withstanding; there are few instances when a receiver or defender goes public with a feud. Sherman went public with it; and did so in WWE fashion, looking like a combination of WWE’s Booker T. Huffman, rapper Busta Rhymes and actor/comedian Doug E. Doug as he stared menacingly into the camera.

Much has been made of Sherman’s outburst. Comments range from “he showed no class” to “his behavior was unnecessary” to “he needs to show more humility.”  What is missing though is that we don’t know the extent of the beef. What’s more, emotions were running high and Sherman was undoubtedly operating on adrenaline. In football parlance, he was geeked. For more details about what it’s like to be geeked on the gridiron ask Dr. Kevin L. Brooks whom, while at the University of Cincinnati, benefited from the coaching of John Harbaugh, now head coach of the Baltimore Ravens or Renford Reese, whom played free safety in the vaunted SEC. Ask Reese (one of the Supplement’s regular contributors) what it was like to stop Emmitt Smith from getting a key first down in a highly anticipated match up against Florida in the late 1980s. He’ll tell you he was geeked. He may have yelled some things at Emmitt that he normally would have kept to himself, who knows.

There is, however a larger issue here to which few will admit. There are certain sectors of society that have always abhorred boisterous Black athletes, hence the reason Muhammad Ali was vilified for much of his career while Floyd Patterson was lauded. As gargantuan, gruff and anti-social as Sonny Liston was many whites still preferred him over Ali, because he kept his mouth shut while Ali’s braggadocio ways made him come across as a blowhard, braggart. When his conversion to Islam was made public, the disdain on the part of many whites only increased. And the more he bragged the more vitriol was spat upon him I’m told.

Society prefers Blacks athletes who are quiet and unassuming. Derek Jeter, Barry Sanders, David Robinson, Donovan McNabb, and dare I say, O.J. Simpson are several examples. The same goes for Black coaches. Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith are two such examples. Those who comport themselves in a quiet and assuming manner while entertaining the viewing public are often characterized as class acts. The same people who consider Dungy and Smith class acts would probably not bestow upon Denny Green, formerly head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals the same compliment. Class acts are also often perceived as nonthreatening. In other words, they don’t act in a way that would suggest they are accusatory, disgruntled or dissatisfied with “the system” in any way, shape or form. Whether or not they actually are is beside the point. As long as they appear that way in the field of play is what’s important to some.

Of course there are Black athletes who are quiet, but no one would accuse them of being unassuming. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Curt Flood are several examples of athletes who were quiet while on the field of play, but of course, had lots to say away from it about any number of issues they believed impacted Black people’s well being. Their silence within the field of play, however, was so deafening, so ominous that it was interpreted by some as militant, and rightly so. Abdul-Jabbar, Russell, Brown and Flood are four of the most socially conscious Black athletes of the past fifty years, which may in part explain why they were not as beloved as some of their happy-go lucky contemporaries.

On Sunday Sherman came across angry and forceful, which made Erin Andrews cringe, and it was noticeable, which in turn probably made some white males uncomfortable. At that moment, in the deep recesses of some people’s minds Sherman may have represented the Big Black Buck, a savage from which white women must be protected by their male counterparts whom, ironically, history has revealed has done more to consign them to an inferior position in American society than any Black man could ever dream of doing. On this subject is a ton of literature, none of which will be rehashed here. In the end, Sherman did not behave in accordance with societal norms where race is concerned. He was brash, loud and full of bravado, maybe even full of himself. When you’re Black and you brag, but you back it up you’re despised, and on some perverse level, envied. When you’re Black and you brag, but fall flat on your face you become a laughingstock and are soon ignored.

Did Sherman get carried away? Yes. Was his behavior in poor taste? Probably. Belittling Crabtree and taunting San Francisco’s quarterback by flashing the choke sign was no doubt unnecessary. At the same time, was more made of Sherman’s histrionics than was merited? Absolutely—no crime was committed. There’s no evidence that Sherman spat on or tried to physically injure an opposing player. Moreover, nowhere in Sherman’s diatribe did I detect the slightest hint of vulgarity nor did he toss about any words that needed to be bleeped out.

Unfortunately what Sherman may have succeeded in doing is giving a certain fan base a convenient excuse to couch him as a villain, which may or may not adversely impact his earning power, both on and off the field. The backlash that Sherman has suffered as a result of the theatre that unfolded on Sunday with him in the lead role is but a microcosm of American society. If nothing else Sherman may do well to keep this in the forefront of his mind as he attempts to cement his reputation as being universally recognized as the best DB in the game, rather than the self-proclaimed best DB in the gaaaaaaame.

Do We Have A Compassionate President?

by C. Earl Campbell DA 3rd


President Obama has pardoned more Thanksgiving Turkeys than Political Prisons, who were victims of the US Government’s Counter Intelligence Programs (CoIntelPro), started under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  Even Russian President Putin had the courage to correct one of his own mistakes last month by releasing a political prisoner.  Some argue that during the 1960s Blacks were disproportionately targeted and victimized by the FBI’s CoIntelPro initiative. President Obama needs to demonstrate the moral courage to address this historic injustice. To speak of Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner for nearly thirty years and turn a blind eye to those who are suffering a similar fate here in the United States is the epitome of US Hypocrisy.  Where is the compassion for fellow human beings such as Marshall Eddie Conway and Chip Fitzgerald, who have languished in jail for more than 30 years for demanding justice, fairness and equality in a nation that is viewed by many as a beacon of Democracy?

President Obama Should Issue an Executive Order requiring Attorney General Eric Holder to establish a National Political Prisoner Review Process that grants Presidential Pardons and releases anyone convicted based on evidence garnered by illegal wire-tapping, mail fraud and manufactured criminal charges. The criteria should include prisoners who are 60 years of age or older old and have served 20 years in prison because of their political activities. Failure to take action would demonstrate a lack of compassion for the suffering of human beings such as Nelson Mandela and a gross dereliction of duty as this nation’s first so-called African American President.


For African American coaches every great job isn’t a great job

Judson L. Jeffries, PhD

Over the past several days, two African American head coaches have gotten jobs at what are universally considered two of the nation’s premier football schools, the University of Texas at Austin and Penn State University. Charlie Strong left a successful program at the University of Louisville, where he lost a total of three games over two seasons. A school more known for its basketball program than its football team was seemingly a great fit for Strong. He was well-liked, held in high regard and produced a winning team annually without the pressures that are associated with some jobs. This week James Franklin, the head coach at Vanderbilt University accepted the same position at Penn State University, a program that has fallen on hard times since the school was beset with scandal two years ago. Both are high profile jobs that come with high expectations. Both Strong and Franklin left behind positions in which job security was seemingly not an issue nor was remuneration. Strong signed a new contract in January 2013 making him among the top ten highest paid football coaches in America while Franklin earned a cool three million at a school known more for its student’s high SAT scores than its athletics. After all, Vanderbilt has been called the Harvard of the South. This is not to say that the salaries for the head football coach at Texas and Penn State are not significantly higher than both Louisville and Vanderbilt; they are.

Apparently the uptick in salary and the prestige (especially the prestige) often prompts some African American coaches to leave behind a good thing for the glare of the spotlight that comes with being the head coach of a big-time college program. But not every big-time head coaching job is a good job for an African American coach. Turner Gill left the University of Buffalo for Kansas University, not a big-time football school, but a school in a big-time football conference, the Big 12. After two losing seasons Gill was fired. Years ago Sylvester Croom lamented the fact that he was passed over for the head coaching job of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Croom had played for the legendary Bear Bryant and served as an assistant coach at UA, hence he believed he merited strong consideration for the head coaching position. That he was not offered the job was probably a blessing in disguise. For African American coaches, there is little room for error; moreover the leeway afforded them is seemingly less than that accorded white coaches. Jon Embree, the former coach at the University of Colorado was dismissed after two losing seasons there.

African American coaches give alumni, boosters, fans and even athletic directors a convenient reason to call for their firing when winning does not come soon enough or often enough. This was the case with Tyrone Willingham at Notre Dame who was fired following the 2004 season after suffering two consecutive losing seasons, despite the fact that he led his team to a 10-3 record in 2002 and capturing several Coach of the Year honors. Willingham had a five year contract, but was let go after three years. However, his successor, Charlie Weis, was allowed to serve out his five year contract despite his mixed success. This is especially true in cases where a coach may have been brought on board before the athletic director was hired. Simply put, because the athletic director was not involved in the hiring of said coach, not only is there no loyalty, but there is an absence of personal investment. Consequently, it is not uncommon for African American coaches to get ousted by recently hired ADs after suffering a losing season, despite evidence that the program was headed in the right direction (see Crooms at Mississippi State). All money isn’t good money.

With the high profile job comes great expectations and tremendous responsibilities. There are significant demands on their time. Some are required to help fundraise, host radio shows, television shows, schmooze with boosters and alumni. In some instances, alumni and boosters would prefer a coach that looks like them, especially those old hardline alums and boosters whose sentiments about race matters harken back to an earlier era.

African American coaches who get fired often do not get second chances. When they do, they are usually not at the type of high profile institutions at which they were previously employed. In college basketball, Stan Heath led the Golden Flashes of Kent State University to a 30-6 record during the 2001-2002 season. His lone year of head coaching experience resulted in an offer from the high profile University of Arkansas, which he accepted. Unable to enjoy the kind of consistent success to which fans had become accustomed during Nolan Richardson’s reign Heath was fired. His next job—the University of South Florida, a respectable university, but not of the caliber of Arkansas. Succumbing to the glamour of the big time job involves a degree of risk that may, in the long run, be detrimental to one’s career. This is not to say that African American coaches should not aspire to greater heights. However, sometimes the best move is to forego the proverbial once in a lifetime gig and prosper in one’s current position. A recent example of a successful African American head coach whom elected to stay put rather than be seduced by the allure of the money and cache (despite the fact that he continues to be a highly sought after commodity) is Shaka Smart, the basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University. Smart understands that not all money is good money and everything that glitters isn’t gold.