WINNSBORO — America lost one of its legendary folk singers on Monday when Pete Seeger passed away at age 94. For Fairfield County Councilman Kamau Marcharia, the loss was more personal than iconic.
Marcharia was friends with Seeger for over 20 years. In fact, Marcharia and Seeger moved in the same activist circles in the 1970s.
He said their relationship grew from the direct action training events Marcharia helped promote and develop, events Seeger sometimes attended.
“I stayed two weeks at his house on the Hudson (back then) working with him on environmental activism,” Marcharia said. “He also came to conferences I held on social activism.”
Si Kahn, an activist and folk singer who mentored and befriended Marcharia as Marcharia found his niche in politics, introduced him to Seeger. Marcharia attended concerts as Seeger’s guest and credits the traveling folk singer for helping his politics evolve.
“Myself, in my life, I was greatly inspired by (Seeger),” he said.
He recalled the impact of Seeger’s song “If I had a Hammer” and Seeger’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” and of Seeger’s role in writing the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”
In the 1960s, words were Marcharia’s hammer as he taught himself to read using copies of Reader’s Digest in a prison library. Back then he was aware of Seeger and that Seeger had been labeled as communist and anti-American.
Seeger’s 1960s era question of why bombs were dropped in Vietnam instead of educational materials that could be used to teach the people there to read resonated with Marcharia, who at the time was incarcerated and teaching himself to read using Reader’s Digest, Tarzan novels and the dictionary.
From there Marcharia helped inmates with parole appeals, earning the notice of Harvard Law graduate, activist and author Andrew Vachss.
Vachss and others working with him famously took the case of Ruben Hurricane Carter, a man with whom Kamau once shared a cell block with and even boxed at one point. Ultimately the legal appeals resulted in parole for Marcharia, though he maintains his innocence in that case.
Those seeds of perseverance and determination in the face of injustice grew in the decades after Marcharia returned to society and led to his becoming involved politically in causes, and ultimately, holding office in Fairfield County.
“Seeger, throughout his life, stood his ground in the face of adversity and held strong to his convictions,” Marcharia said. “The world has lost a great artist and human being, a great writer and creative voice. He was an amazing human being (and I am honored to have called him a friend).”