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Singer-songwriters Florence Reece and Pete Seeger discuss writing songs

BROADCAST: Mar. 17, 1978 | DURATION: 00:48:56

Synopsis

Known for their songs about the working class, both Florence Reece and Pete Seeger talk about how they come about writing the lyrics to songs. Seeger says unbeknownst to them, anyone can write a song. Included within this interview, Seeger plays the banjo and Reece sings a song.

Transcript

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OK

Don Tait The time is 10 o'clock, and we welcome you now to the Studs Terkel program, heard on WFMT each weekday from 10 a.m. 'til 11, and Thursday nights at 10:30. And, here's Studs.

Studs Terkel Thank you, Don. Today is a very beautiful morning for more than one reason, not the fact that it's St. Patrick's Day, that, that becomes a commercial holiday, too, but rather because of the two quite remarkable people in the studio this morning: Florence Reece, who I guess you might say is one of the heroines, a true heroine in American history in the story of labor. A miner's wife, she wrote that song that's the anthem of all working people today, "Which Side Are You On?," how appropriate it is now, too. And with her is someone you might call the bard of American music, Pete Seeger, and Pete is performing tonight with Mrs. Reece being the guest of honor, and Jane Sapp, a quite remarkable singer, member of Honey in the Rock, will be singing as well as a miner, Bill Worthington will offer some songs. And Pete and Mrs. Reece are in the studio this morning and they got in real late and this is very gracious of them, indeed, and so Mrs. Reece will be talking about her memories, her life, how she wrote that song and feelings about a miner's life, and Pete'll be here talking, too, and perhaps if the mood hits him, singing a song or two. Tonight at, at the Auditorium Theatre. We understand tickets are sold out, but try. There may be some tickets available at the Auditorium Theatre eight o'clock tonight. It's a tribute to working women of this country under the auspices of the Amer-- of the Labor Education Society. So Pete Seeger, Florence Reece in a moment after this message. [pause in recording] Florence Reece, Mrs. Reece, that's a song that Pete and his colleagues, the Almanac, sang so many years ago, it's your song. What are your thoughts on hearing that now?

Florence Reece It sounds good. It sounds real good.

Pete Seeger But you know, Florence has -- she'll be too polite to say the words aren't exactly like she wrote it. She -- her two daughters used to sing this in the union hall, Studs, and they'd say "My daddy is a miner. He's now in the air and sun." Isn't that right?

Florence Reece Yes, "He'll be with you fellow workers 'til every battle's won."

Pete Seeger "In the air and sun," meant he was blacklisted.

Studs Terkel Oh, really?

Florence Reece He was out of the mines.

Studs Terkel Oh, "in the air and sun" involuntarily. How'd you come to write that song? Suppose, suppose you -- people want to know about you. This song is really so powerful. And I think every union man, good union man, knows this song, and young people know it, too. Who are you, who are you, Florence Reece? Where'd you come from?

Florence Reece Well, I'm from Tennessee, and, about why I come to write this song was back in the '30s, and the miners came out for a contract and they wouldn't -- they wouldn't, coal operators wouldn't let 'em have a contract. And John Henry Blair was a high sheriff and the coal operators was in with him because he said they was his deputy sheriffs, they wasn't nothing but gun thugs. I know, because they'd come to my house, they'd search everything in the house. They'd look in the stove and the chest of drawers, under the mattress and everything. They kept coming, they come five carloads, they'd have pistols on each side and high-powered rifles, and one time they come, and I said, he said, "Here we are back". I said, "What are you after time?" He said, "Well, he said we come back for, look for the same thing," he said. "We wanted to know if you have any rifles or IWW papers." I never heard tell of IWW, I didn't know what they was, so I went out and asked the neighbors, I said, "Do you know what IWW is?" And they said no. I said, "Well, we better find out, because maybe they'll help us if gun fails for us." [laughing] So, we, we never did find out about 'em though, but they kept coming back. And then they, they took Sam to Harlan Jail, and

Studs Terkel That's your husband.

Florence Reece Yes. But I

Studs Terkel He was a miner.

Florence Reece Yeah. He was, because he was organizing. And I didn't know where he was and they put him in jail and kept him overnight, let him sleep, sleep on the concrete floor. So then the next morning they took him to Pineville and put him just long enough for the turnkey to get his cut out of it. And then they turned him out and he come home. And then he had to stay hid out, you know. So there was a place that come up around the back and he would come up that way. And they found out he's comin in there so they put a man down there and he had a machine gun [is what's from] and the others was up at the upper side. And they would shoot in Pine Mountain with their high powered rifles. There wasn't anything for them to shoot at, but just intimidate me and my children. So I had to do something, I, I, I just didn't know what to do, and they wouldn't let the News Sentinal come in there. So then I thought well I would write a, a song and get it out and figured maybe they could help us. And then one man come and told me, he said "Florence, Sam is already out. They wouldn't let him come in. He could have come in but he'd went to jail or been killed". So, they said, "they're gonna hold you, or your son, he was 16, til Sam comes". I didn't want to and I told Harvey I said "Harvey, I'll stay, you go". So he went down, I told him to go to a neighbor's house and have her keep him til in the morning so we'd move out. But the man moved, was scared to death of the thugs. So we come into Pineville, and I called, we called the jails, we didn't see him, we called the hospitals and I called one man, one of our friends I said "Have you seen Harvey?", he says "Yes, he come here this morning before daylight and I put him in the bed and when I got up he was gone". So we didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to get Sam, and so I was scared to death. So we drove on to, across the Tennessee line, Cumberland Gap, and there sat Harvey on the guardrails. That was the happiest time of my life, when I knew the gun thugs didn't have him. But before that I wrote this song, I, I had, you know I just had to do something. So I couldn't write it fast enough. I couldn't, I was so upset and I was so, you know. And they was doing the miners so bad, and people was starving, you'd see children with big stomachs that'd eat anything, and men staggered and one of my friends had two little daughters, they put her husband in jail. And she went up to see him and she had what they call [plagris?], it's all scaly. And so John Henry Blair, he had a guilty conscience

Studs Terkel That was the

Florence Reece But, yeah, but not enough. He give the two little girls 10 cents apiece and seeing their mother starving. So I told her daddy, said, "If you leave the county, I'll turn out," he said "I'll not do it." He said, "I'm staying here and fight them," but the [minutes?] were rough on his family that he left, he had to leave and, this one man that -- he said he'd take me to where Sam was and I took my baby and, we went to Pineville, he says he's in Pineville hotel. When we got down there, why, he went across the street to the hotel, come back, he said he's a not there. And so he'd stole a big dog in the street and put him in the back seat with me. He said they don't want nobody worse than do me, said "You see the back of my windshield there? It's shot out." Said "They shot that out." So then -- well, the miners had trusted him, and, and I trusted him. So then the next day, we went to Waldens Creek, and as we's going in, we met five carloads of young thugs coming out, and I went to my friend's house that was organizing with Sam, and she says, "They've just been here and got our guns," so I said, "Why didn't you throw 'em in the river?" She said, "We couldn't get there." So there's a few men that they hadn't bothered, was having a little meeting. They sent for me to come over there, and I went over there and they said, "Why did you come up here with him?" I said, "Well, he's one of us, isn't he?" And they said, "Noooo." I said, "Well, the gun thugs shot his window out." Said the gun thugs didn't do that, he'd done that himself so he could get you to talk and tell him where Sam was." So then I didn't go, I didn't go with him no more, and then when we had to move out of there, so that's the end of the day, the story of the young thugs and a lot of people was killed-- a lot of miners was killed.

Studs Terkel You know, Pete, as Mrs. Reece tells it with such memory as though it were yesterday. You remember it -- and how you wrote that song! You, you -- did you ever write a song before?

Florence Reece Yes, I'd wrote some, but -- and wrote poems, you know, and, and things

Studs Terkel I'm, I'm watching Pete there with his banjo. You know, Pete and the banjo are one. And I know he and I would both be interested in, perhaps Pete would say whatever he wants to say and we have much to ask you. But do you recall when you were writing that song, 'cause I know you were teaching Pete a song here a moment ago, another one. Do you recall -- I know that this may be asking you too much. As you were writing it, can you sort of recreate it, that moment? Can you relive that moment as you were writing that song, that the word came to you? "Will you be a union thug?" How were you doing it? You, you wrote on a piece of paper and a pencil?

Florence Reece We didn't, we didn't have any paper. We was just out of food and we was out of paper, so we had an old calendar, so I just stripped it off the wall and went to writing. I couldn't write it fast enough. I had to! I had to get it over with. And then I put the, the music to it from an old hymn.

Studs Terkel Oh, was that it?

Florence Reece Yeah.

Pete Seeger Oh. Do you re-- what was the old hymn like?

Florence Reece Um, I can't remember just now, but I remember trying to find it in my songbook so I can tell the people what it was. Oh, part of it goes, "I'm gonna land on that shore and be safe forever more." And that was, then which side of our song like that.

Pete Seeger It's funny for me to hear that record, too, because that, that was, I was 21 when I made it. I was, just learned the banjo, and I'd only learned the song the year before when I was hitchhiking down South and visited the Reece family, she had left Kentucky to go down to live in Knoxville. And, Josh White sat in on the recording session, that was his guitar playing on that. He didn't hesitate a bit. He said, "We have to record this song and we need a guitar. Will you help us out?" And on 24 hours notice he came up to the studio. Now, the little recording company, only -- it was so small it didn't have any distribution, and they went out of business after World War Two and the record was unavailable. But Folkways reissued it, and you know that record has seeped around the world. It's known in Europe. It's known north, south, all kinds of places that, that little record has gone, although it's never sold in the stores, you have to write to get it.

Studs Terkel It's your song, Mrs. Reece. You know, it's funny we, we know there's a miner's strike going on today. Years have passed. You're talking about the times when they were just organizing in many cases. Years have passed and yet the public, watching television or reading newspapers know so little as to what the miners are striking for. The things -- the gains they've made, and danger. So how do you feel today? Is it -- the battle still goes on, doesn't it?

Florence Reece The battle still goes on. The battle still goes on with the miners. So, we're hoping that the miners wins. They have to win, it's now or never. And, if the miners lose, the next thing they'll be the steelworkers, the automobiles and the rubber workers and the textiles. They'll be everything. To me now the coal operators is trying to break the strike. United Mine Workers, you know, trying to break the strike and trying to tear up the union. That's, that's way I feel about it. And, and I've lived through 'em and watched 'em, and I know that that's -- that's the way they do things.

Studs Terkel You've seen that happen, haven't you? It's interesting, isn't it, Pete, how years pass, how more things change the more they're the same. Gains have been made, of course, and yet this effort -- of course, the miners were the ones really who organized the CIO? Weren't they?

Pete Seeger John L.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pete Seeger Well, what -- John L. during the '20s, he'd been sitting back not doing anything, and I guess by 1935 he saw that if he didn't do something, the miners were just going past him and leave him behind. And -- but that was historic, when he said, "Okay, let's, let's, shake hands." And he was -- and he started fighting, and, and that, and that huge growth of the CIO took place, then '35, '36, '37, '38 very suddenly, making up for lost time. But in '32, when "Which Side Are You On?" was made up, it was the National Miner's Union, and John L. was just sitting holding his job and wasn't doing anything. Right?

Studs Terkel What is in -- songs have always played a role, haven't they? You wrote that song based on a hymn.

Florence Reece Yes.

Studs Terkel Pete, I was thinking as Mrs. Reece is talking, thing -- songs or thoughts that come to your mind right now.

Pete Seeger Well, I don't know who said it first, but there was, it's an old saying, somebody said, "I, I don't care who makes the country's laws. I'd like to know who makes the country's songs."

Studs Terkel By the way, this is interesting, it was an Irishman. It wasn't Moore, I forget his name now O'Connor, is a little bard. Well, it's interesting, yeah, that's important, isn't it?

Pete Seeger Well, a country's songs are created not just by the people who write them, but by the people who remember them and sing them. After all, there's hundreds of thousands of songs written. But the few dozen which make history make history because the people make them history, and this brings out a truth which we often forget that while there may be famous people and famous powerful people, history is really made by masses of people. When millions of people decide to do something, that's when history gets made. And the generals can come and go, and the presidents and the kings and the dictators can come and go, but when the people decide something has to be done, that's when history gets made.

Studs Terkel Who built the pyramids? The old story. Who built the Seven Gates of Thebes? Well, Pete is there. The banjo is right there on your arm.

Pete Seeger Let me sing you another song that came out of that same terrible time of '32, Florence Reece, because, I often sing this song to remind myself of the bravery of the young people. Every generation comes along, new young people, and this was made up about a young Jewish boy from, from the north, and he went down there to help with this strike. [Sings and plays banjo "The Death of Harry Simms"]

Studs Terkel Funny in hearing

Florence Reece Thank you Pete. It's

Pete Seeger Jim Garland, the -- you may have known him. Did you know

Florence Reece Oh, yes, he was at the Smithsonian

Pete Seeger That's right. He wrote that song. He lives out in, in Oregon. Washington.

Florence Reece Washington.

Studs Terkel There it is, Jim Garland, who no one knows, who working-- who wrote that song, you wrote that, that's the point Pete was making, wasn't it? One of the things, Mrs. Reece, I says you and Pete, both, history is so quickly forgotten. Because history books don't tell us the true stories. They say, "Oh, miners organized, Roosevelt elected four times. There was a Depression. And then came the war and the prosperity." They don't say what it was like, or how we know -- so young people know about unions, at least headlines about the crooked Teamsters or about George Meany, but they don't know about people like you and your husband and Garland, and that's the point.

Florence Reece Well, since you wasn't there, I can tell you truthful this: it was more like what we read about Hitler than anything I could describe have he done, done the people. They was doing us that way.

Studs Terkel But there you were, though, you and your -- all your friends and -- I think one of the things Pete that comes to mind. I don't know people saw the film Harlan County, that marv --in which you appeared. And you think the women, the miner's wives. I guess they were always in it, weren't they?

Florence Reece I was there with them when they was whipping them scabs.

Studs Terkel The women were? [laughing]

Florence Reece Yeah. And one of the women, I was there at the trial, and, so she -- there was a, a, a thug there, and she said, she told the judge, says, "He don't like me," and the judge says, "Why don't they like you?" She says, "Ask him." She said that, "He said that I hit him with a iron rod." I said, "If she'd have hit him with a iron rod, he wouldn't been here to tell that story." She hit him with a stick and broke it. [laughing] And she's a fighter.

Pete Seeger That's another thing about the history books. They'll tell you about the famous men, but history has been made by women as much as by men. And you know the Chinese story, heaven is held up, 50% of heaven is held up by women, and sometimes I think more than, than 50%. And, and I don't know, did you mention that tonight's is really a tribute to all working women.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Pete Seeger And, black women and white women, of, now, I, I thought the songs I'd sing tonight would be all the songs that have been taught me or written by women, and you ought to play on this program one of the songs at least of Jane Sapp, who is on the

Studs Terkel Well, that might be a good moment perhaps now. Jane Sapp is a marvelous singer, and I -- what, was she a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock or did she sing on her own?

Unidentified Woman She worked with

Studs Terkel She worked. That's a marvelous group was organized by an old friend of Pete's, Bernice Reagon. And here we have, suppose we hear Jane Sapp right now and, and a spiritual she sings. [pause in recording] That was Jane Sapp, one of her own recordings. She'll be singing that tonight, that and some other powerful spirituals and work songs I'm sure, and that's tonight at the Auditorium Theatre. Tickets are pretty well sold out, but you can -- well there're some left, though, if you call up the Auditorium and -- or come down there, it's a, going quite event with Pete Seeger, Mrs. Reece will be there, and honored, as well as Bill Worthington, the miner who sings and Jane Sapp, and then the audience'll be some quite remarkable people. Myles Horton of the Highlander Folk School in Knoxville, where you live, Mrs. Reece will be there, so we'll take a slight pause now. We'll hear from Don Tait and we'll return, perhaps with more of your thoughts, Mrs. Reece and perhaps Pete's comments and a song or two from Pete, too, after this message from Don. [pause in recording] We're resuming the conversation, reflections of my two guests here this morning on this spring day, pre-spring day. Mrs. Florence Reece, for those of you who may have tuned in late, she is the miner's wife, the woman who wrote that anthem you might say of working people, "Which Side Are You On?," the one you heard the Almanac sing in the beginning when Pete was 21 years old, and Pete Seeger, more on that. Just a word about Pete, perhaps. You know, Pete receives scores of requests, hundreds of requests to sing everywhere, and he just picks his own places. He wants to sing what he feels it means something and we're honored of course that, as indeed the labor education people are, that Pete is singing there tonight. We're honored, too with you, Mrs. Reece, you've been involved in so many matters as far as fighting for the better life. You organized something called the Brookside Woman's Club. Is that in Harlan County?

Florence Reece Yes, it's in Harlan County.

Studs Terkel Well, for -- so for young people listening today who knew little about this, as my contemporaries know little, how things -- Harlan County is a, is a famous, infamous name in labor battles, isn't it?

Florence Reece Bloody Harlan County it was called, and it was bloody because there was men killed. And, um, and this women's club, the, their husbands, well, they didn't want their wives to get involved you know, or anything. So I went up there since my father was a coal miner and my husband's a coal miner. My father was killed in the coal mines in 1914 and he was loading coal at 15 cents a ton, they didn't have a union. And the coal operators didn't give my mother one penny. They didn't bury him or anything. So then my husband, he's slowly dying of the black lung, so I told him that I wasn't a miner, but I was just as near one as I could get, not to be one. So we went up there, and two girls and me, and we talked, they talked to the women and I talked some, so there's men sitting up there whittling, and I'm, thought I'd go out there and talk to them since they told me they didn't want their wives getting, you know, getting involved, go to jail or something. And I went out there and talked to them, but they didn't -- they didn't want to talk to me, seemed like they didn't want to talk to me much. And then I told them who I was, and I asked them if they'd ever hear of "Which Side Are You On?" and they quit whittling then, they straightened up and then went to talking to me. So that was good. I appreciated that so much. And from then on, the organizers, they came, you know, and we talked, and they wanted me to stay, but I couldn't stay, so I'd, I'd go every day or twice a week, you know, and talk to the women, I'd go to the jai -- to the trials, and they put the women in jail, and they put their children in with 'em, and so they asked me, said, "What do you think of this?" and I said, "I think it's the dirtiest thing that ever happened in Kentucky, of putting women in and and their children also." So they, they got out, and then the women, they went, they went on the picket line then, so they had to, they wouldn't allow but three men, and the men couldn't stop the scabs, so they went in there, and first they started with switches of whipping the scabs, and that, that would

Studs Terkel The women?

Florence Reece The women, and that wasn't enough. They had to -- they got sticks and they got clubs. And so the scabs got by 'em one time. And then the women found out they's up there and they wouldn't let 'em come out. They beat the tar out of them when they come out and got by. They kept them behind that building nearly all night, and they said, "Well, we can't get out of here, we can't go home," and the women says, "Well, you got up there. You had no business to go up there." But they dragged them women to cross the road, them guards, thugs, or whatever there was, and it was bad, but it wasn't as bad as the '30s, but it would have been if they hadn't, you know, settled.

Studs Terkel So you organized the, the Brookside?

Florence Reece Yeah, I, I was right in there with 'em. I was doing everything I could do to help 'em. And, and they appreciated. So we got, I got leaflets up in Knoxville. Electrician paid for a lot of leaflets. I sent 'em all, they said in the jail when they was in there, women said, "We can't do nothing." I said, "I can. I can get out and I'll do something." So I got the leaflets. I sent 'em all over the country. To New York, Washington, California, Chicago, ever -- all the union places that I could send, and I wrote to George Meany. I sent him my piece about him, you know? And then I sent him the leaflet and I wrote him a letter. I said, "You can help these miners. I know you can help 'em. Their back's to the wall, and every union man should stand side-by-side. But I never heard one word from him. He didn't help 'em. So I don't know why, why he didn't help

Pete Seeger You know, this is a great tradition of organizing, of, now, in fact, one of most wonderful things about this country is the, the way you rank and file people will take into their hands the determination to, to organize something. Don't leave it up to some -- you know, saying, well, it's somebody else's job to do it. If it has, job has to be done, people will just up and do it. And throughout America today, there's thousands of communi-- communities where people are organizing. Now, some people don't like organizations. I, I even in -- I've known people who say, "Oh, I don't like organizations, period." But I'm convinced that this is just because they -- people who say they hate organizations is because they've never seen what can happen if you make it democratic, if the rank and file get involved. Oh, you know, I've seen people who say they hate unions, because all they know about a union is, is, is reading in the new -- headlines what George Meany doesn't do.

Studs Terkel Or the Teamsters do, certain, yeah.

Pete Seeger Anf yet, what you don't read in the headlines is the thousands of cases where people like Florence Reece here have decided, "Well, somebody's got to do something," and they just up and do it. They get on the telephone, or they write letters or postcards, or they go knock on doors, ring doorbells, or just walk down the street and go in the stores, or in the bars, and, and saying, "We got to do something," and you start talking, and, there'll be ups and downs in this. But I'm convinced that this is the hope for this country is all these rank and file people. You can get discouraged sometimes because it's true, a little organization seems like it's drowned by the power of the government, the power of the coal operators, or, or power of the big business or the multinationals. But you get enough of these small little things, they're gonna all add up. Florence, there was a great Black woman lived 130 years ago named Sojourner Truth, and she was going around the country preaching against slavery, and people just thought she was foolish in, you know, how you gonna stop slavery? One woman going around preaching, and a white politician said, "Woman, I care no more for you than a mosquito." She said, "Praise God, I'm gonna keep you scratching." [laughing] So every, everybody listening. Anybody should realize that you too can do something.

Florence Reece Right. We, uh -- my husband and me, Sam used to go down to the washer. And now we would talk to the people about, talk to 'em about Brookside then and I'd tell 'em how hard the women was a-having it, and, and so they would, they didn't want to listen. And they'd tell their children to get off the table and to sit down and all that stuff. So one woman brought up how high bacon was, this fat bacon. I said there you have it. The Brookside women has to buy that bacon, too. And I, and so I got to talking to 'em about the high prices. Well it hit their stomach, then they come out for the women at Brookside. They knew, but they, they hadn't been told that, they didn't know, nobody wouldn't tell 'em, they'd talk about something else, they didn't want the high prices, but they didn't know what to do about it. I said, "What you can do about it is stick together." I say, "You stick together with the union and you'll win. But if you don't, you're gonna lose." And so then after they leave, so then Myles said, "Well"

Studs Terkel Myles Horton.

Florence Reece Yeah. Myles Horton said, "Now, that'd be a good title for a book. How to organize in the washer." [laughing]

Pete Seeger And it'll all come out in the wash. [banjo playing] What hasn't been mentioned so far is the kind of people that Florence Reece comes from are the singingest people in the country almost, among the singingest, and that part of the world has so much good music in it. That's where I went to learn how to pick a banjo 40 years ago. [plays banjo]

Studs Terkel You, it was down there you learned the banjo? Or the, or the -- think

Pete Seeger I didn't learn from any one person, but every time I met somebody who could pick a banjo I'd kind of hang around a day or two, uh, and learn a little here and a little there.

Studs Terkel Yeah -- Mrs. Reece?

Florence Reece Pete do you, do you remember "The Hungry Little Boy" that I wrote and it was in -- oh, what is this book? The little paper, you know, that I had -- there was several [my

Pete Seeger "Sing Out!" magazine?

Florence Reece Yeah, "Sing Out!" Do you, do you remember that?

Pete Seeger No, I don't. You, you tell us.

Florence Reece Well, the story of it was the, the father and mother lived in a little shack. It wasn't a coal miner, but the father is out of work and the mother's in the hospital and they had three children. So, um, one of the little boys went out and they lived next to a huge brick church. So one of the little boys went out and was setting in shade said, said "Come out here and let's talk." He was four-year-old, and I said, "What do you want to talk about?" He said, "I'm wanting to tell you what I'm going to do, I'm going to get a man." I said, "What are you going to do?" He said, "I'm gonna build me a house like that." I said, "That's a church." He said, "I'll build me a church." I said, "Who will be the preacher?" He said, "I will." I said, "What'll you preach about?" He said, "I'll preach over 'em when they die." I said, "What'll you say?" He said, "I'll say they's hungry." He was hungry, and that's all he could understand. So if you'd like, I'll sing the little song.

Studs Terkel

Florence Reece The time is 10 o'clock, and we welcome you now to the Studs Terkel program, heard on WFMT each weekday from 10 a.m. 'til 11, and Thursday nights at 10:30. And, here's Studs. Thank you, Don. Today is a very beautiful morning for more than one reason, not the fact that it's St. Patrick's Day, that, that becomes a commercial holiday, too, but rather because of the two quite remarkable people in the studio this morning: Florence Reece, who I guess you might say is one of the heroines, a true heroine in American history in the story of labor. A miner's wife, she wrote that song that's the anthem of all working people today, "Which Side Are You On?," how appropriate it is now, too. And with her is someone you might call the bard of American music, Pete Seeger, and Pete is performing tonight with Mrs. Reece being the guest of honor, and Jane Sapp, a quite remarkable singer, member of Honey in the Rock, will be singing as well as a miner, Bill Worthington will offer some songs. And Pete and Mrs. Reece are in the studio this morning and they got in real late and this is very gracious of them, indeed, and so Mrs. Reece will be talking about her memories, her life, how she wrote that song and feelings about a miner's life, and Pete'll be here talking, too, and perhaps if the mood hits him, singing a song or two. Tonight at, at the Auditorium Theatre. We understand tickets are sold out, but try. There may be some tickets available at the Auditorium Theatre eight o'clock tonight. It's a tribute to working women of this country under the auspices of the Amer-- of the Labor Education Society. So Pete Seeger, Florence Reece in a moment after this message. [pause in recording] Florence Reece, Mrs. Reece, that's a song that Pete and his colleagues, the Almanac, sang so many years ago, it's your song. What are your thoughts on hearing that now? It sounds good. It sounds real good. But you know, Florence has -- she'll be too polite to say the words aren't exactly like she wrote it. She -- her two daughters used to sing this in the union hall, Studs, and they'd say "My daddy is a miner. He's now in the air and sun." Isn't that right? Yes, "He'll be with you fellow workers 'til every battle's won." "In the air and sun," meant he was blacklisted. Oh, really? He was out of the mines. Oh, "in the air and sun" involuntarily. How'd you come to write that song? Suppose, suppose you -- people want to know about you. This song is really so powerful. And I think every union man, good union man, knows this song, and young people know it, too. Who are you, who are you, Florence Reece? Where'd you come from? Well, I'm from Tennessee, and, about why I come to write this song was back in the '30s, and the miners came out for a contract and they wouldn't -- they wouldn't, coal operators wouldn't let 'em have a contract. And John Henry Blair was a high sheriff and the coal operators was in with him because he said they was his deputy sheriffs, they wasn't nothing but gun thugs. I know, because they'd come to my house, they'd search everything in the house. They'd look in the stove and the chest of drawers, under the mattress and everything. They kept coming, they come five carloads, they'd have pistols on each side and high-powered rifles, and one time they come, and I said, he said, "Here we are back". I said, "What are you after time?" He said, "Well, he said we come back for, look for the same thing," he said. "We wanted to know if you have any rifles or IWW papers." I never heard tell of IWW, I didn't know what they was, so I went out and asked the neighbors, I said, "Do you know what IWW is?" And they said no. I said, "Well, we better find out, because maybe they'll help us if gun fails for us." [laughing] So, we, we never did find out about 'em though, but they kept coming back. And then they, they took Sam to Harlan Jail, and -- That's your husband. Yes. But I then He was a miner. Yeah. He was, because he was organizing. And I didn't know where he was and they put him in jail and kept him overnight, let him sleep, sleep on the concrete floor. So then the next morning they took him to Pineville and put him just long enough for the turnkey to get his cut out of it. And then they turned him out and he come home. And then he had to stay hid out, you know. So there was a place that come up around the back and he would come up that way. And they found out he's comin in there so they put a man down there and he had a machine gun [is what's from] and the others was up at the upper side. And they would shoot in Pine Mountain with their high powered rifles. There wasn't anything for them to shoot at, but just intimidate me and my children. So I had to do something, I, I, I just didn't know what to do, and they wouldn't let the News Sentinal come in there. So then I thought well I would write a, a song and get it out and figured maybe they could help us. And then one man come and told me, he said "Florence, Sam is already out. They wouldn't let him come in. He could have come in but he'd went to jail or been killed". So, they said, "they're gonna hold you, or your son, he was 16, til Sam comes". I didn't want to and I told Harvey I said "Harvey, I'll stay, you go". So he went down, I told him to go to a neighbor's house and have her keep him til in the morning so we'd move out. But the man moved, was scared to death of the thugs. So we come into Pineville, and I called, we called the jails, we didn't see him, we called the hospitals and I called one man, one of our friends I said "Have you seen Harvey?", he says "Yes, he come here this morning before daylight and I put him in the bed and when I got up he was gone". So we didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to get Sam, and so I was scared to death. So we drove on to, across the Tennessee line, Cumberland Gap, and there sat Harvey on the guardrails. That was the happiest time of my life, when I knew the gun thugs didn't have him. But before that I wrote this song, I, I had, you know I just had to do something. So I couldn't write it fast enough. I couldn't, I was so upset and I was so, you know. And they was doing the miners so bad, and people was starving, you'd see children with big stomachs that'd eat anything, and men staggered and one of my friends had two little daughters, they put her husband in jail. And she went up to see him and she had what they call [plagris?], it's all scaly. And so John Henry Blair, he had a guilty conscience That was the sheriff. But, yeah, but not enough. He give the two little girls 10 cents apiece and seeing their mother starving. So I told her daddy, said, "If you leave the county, I'll turn out," he said "I'll not do it." He said, "I'm staying here and fight them," but the [minutes?] were rough on his family that he left, he had to leave and, this one man that -- he said he'd take me to where Sam was and I took my baby and, we went to Pineville, he says he's in Pineville hotel. When we got down there, why, he went across the street to the hotel, come back, he said he's a not there. And so he'd stole a big dog in the street and put him in the back seat with me. He said they don't want nobody worse than do me, said "You see the back of my windshield there? It's shot out." Said "They shot that out." So then -- well, the miners had trusted him, and, and I trusted him. So then the next day, we went to Waldens Creek, and as we's going in, we met five carloads of young thugs coming out, and I went to my friend's house that was organizing with Sam, and she says, "They've just been here and got our guns," so I said, "Why didn't you throw 'em in the river?" She said, "We couldn't get there." So there's a few men that they hadn't bothered, was having a little meeting. They sent for me to come over there, and I went over there and they said, "Why did you come up here with him?" I said, "Well, he's one of us, isn't he?" And they said, "Noooo." I said, "Well, the gun thugs shot his window out." Said the gun thugs didn't do that, he'd done that himself so he could get you to talk and tell him where Sam was." So then I didn't go, I didn't go with him no more, and then when we had to move out of there, so that's the end of the day, the story of the young thugs and a lot of people was killed-- a lot of miners was killed. You know, Pete, as Mrs. Reece tells it with such memory as though it were yesterday. You remember it -- and how you wrote that song! You, you -- did you ever write a song before? Yes, I'd wrote some, but -- and wrote poems, you know, and, and things like I'm, I'm watching Pete there with his banjo. You know, Pete and the banjo are one. And I know he and I would both be interested in, perhaps Pete would say whatever he wants to say and we have much to ask you. But do you recall when you were writing that song, 'cause I know you were teaching Pete a song here a moment ago, another one. Do you recall -- I know that this may be asking you too much. As you were writing it, can you sort of recreate it, that moment? Can you relive that moment as you were writing that song, that the word came to you? "Will you be a union thug?" How were you doing it? You, you wrote on a piece of paper and a pencil? We didn't, we didn't have any paper. We was just out of food and we was out of paper, so we had an old calendar, so I just stripped it off the wall and went to writing. I couldn't write it fast enough. I had to! I had to get it over with. And then I put the, the music to it from an old hymn. Oh, was that it? Yeah. Oh. Do you re-- what was the old hymn like? What Um, I can't remember just now, but I remember trying to find it in my songbook so I can tell the people what it was. Oh, part of it goes, "I'm gonna land on that shore and be safe forever more." And that was, then which side of our song like that. It's funny for me to hear that record, too, because that, that was, I was 21 when I made it. I was, just learned the banjo, and I'd only learned the song the year before when I was hitchhiking down South and visited the Reece family, she had left Kentucky to go down to live in Knoxville. And, Josh White sat in on the recording session, that was his guitar playing on that. He didn't hesitate a bit. He said, "We have to record this song and we need a guitar. Will you help us out?" And on 24 hours notice he came up to the studio. Now, the little recording company, only -- it was so small it didn't have any distribution, and they went out of business after World War Two and the record was unavailable. But Folkways reissued it, and you know that record has seeped around the world. It's known in Europe. It's known north, south, all kinds of places that, that little record has gone, although it's never sold in the stores, you have to write to get it. It's your song, Mrs. Reece. You know, it's funny we, we know there's a miner's strike going on today. Years have passed. You're talking about the times when they were just organizing in many cases. Years have passed and yet the public, watching television or reading newspapers know so little as to what the miners are striking for. The things -- the gains they've made, and danger. So how do you feel today? Is it -- the battle still goes on, doesn't it? The battle still goes on. The battle still goes on with the miners. So, we're hoping that the miners wins. They have to win, it's now or never. And, if the miners lose, the next thing they'll be the steelworkers, the automobiles and the rubber workers and the textiles. They'll be everything. To me now the coal operators is trying to break the strike. United Mine Workers, you know, trying to break the strike and trying to tear up the union. That's, that's way I feel about it. And, and I've lived through 'em and watched 'em, and I know that that's -- that's the way they do things. You've seen that happen, haven't you? It's interesting, isn't it, Pete, how years pass, how more things change the more they're the same. Gains have been made, of course, and yet this effort -- of course, the miners were the ones really who organized the CIO? Weren't they? John L. Yeah. Well, what -- John L. during the '20s, he'd been sitting back not doing anything, and I guess by 1935 he saw that if he didn't do something, the miners were just going past him and leave him behind. And -- but that was historic, when he said, "Okay, let's, let's, shake hands." And he was -- and he started fighting, and, and that, and that huge growth of the CIO took place, then '35, '36, '37, '38 very suddenly, making up for lost time. But in '32, when "Which Side Are You On?" was made up, it was the National Miner's Union, and John L. was just sitting holding his job and wasn't doing anything. Right? What is in -- songs have always played a role, haven't they? You wrote that song based on a hymn. Yes. Pete, I was thinking as Mrs. Reece is talking, thing -- songs or thoughts that come to your mind right now. Well, I don't know who said it first, but there was, it's an old saying, somebody said, "I, I don't care who makes the country's laws. I'd like to know who makes the country's songs." By the way, this is interesting, it was an Irishman. It wasn't Moore, I forget his name now O'Connor, is a little bard. Well, it's interesting, yeah, that's important, isn't it? Well, a country's songs are created not just by the people who write them, but by the people who remember them and sing them. After all, there's hundreds of thousands of songs written. But the few dozen which make history make history because the people make them history, and this brings out a truth which we often forget that while there may be famous people and famous powerful people, history is really made by masses of people. When millions of people decide to do something, that's when history gets made. And the generals can come and go, and the presidents and the kings and the dictators can come and go, but when the people decide something has to be done, that's when history gets made. Who built the pyramids? The old story. Who built the Seven Gates of Thebes? Well, Pete is there. The banjo is right there on your arm. Let me sing you another song that came out of that same terrible time of '32, Florence Reece, because, I often sing this song to remind myself of the bravery of the young people. Every generation comes along, new young people, and this was made up about a young Jewish boy from, from the north, and he went down there to help with this strike. [Sings and plays banjo "The Death of Harry Simms"] Funny in hearing you Thank you Pete. It's Jim Garland, the -- you may have known him. Did you know --? Oh, yes, he was at the Smithsonian festival That's right. He wrote that song. He lives out in, in Oregon. Washington. Washington. There it is, Jim Garland, who no one knows, who working-- who wrote that song, you wrote that, that's the point Pete was making, wasn't it? One of the things, Mrs. Reece, I says you and Pete, both, history is so quickly forgotten. Because history books don't tell us the true stories. They say, "Oh, miners organized, Roosevelt elected four times. There was a Depression. And then came the war and the prosperity." They don't say what it was like, or how we know -- so young people know about unions, at least headlines about the crooked Teamsters or about George Meany, but they don't know about people like you and your husband and Garland, and that's the point. Well, since you wasn't there, I can tell you truthful this: it was more like what we read about Hitler than anything I could describe have he done, done the people. They was doing us that way. But there you were, though, you and your -- all your friends and -- I think one of the things Pete that comes to mind. I don't know people saw the film Harlan County, that marv --in which you appeared. And you think the women, the miner's wives. I guess they were always in it, weren't they? I was there with them when they was whipping them scabs. The women were? [laughing] Yeah. And one of the women, I was there at the trial, and, so she -- there was a, a, a thug there, and she said, she told the judge, says, "He don't like me," and the judge says, "Why don't they like you?" She says, "Ask him." She said that, "He said that I hit him with a iron rod." I said, "If she'd have hit him with a iron rod, he wouldn't been here to tell that story." She hit him with a stick and broke it. [laughing] And she's a fighter. That's another thing about the history books. They'll tell you about the famous men, but history has been made by women as much as by men. And you know the Chinese story, heaven is held up, 50% of heaven is held up by women, and sometimes I think more than, than 50%. And, and I don't know, did you mention that tonight's is really a tribute to all working women. Yes. And, black women and white women, of, now, I, I thought the songs I'd sing tonight would be all the songs that have been taught me or written by women, and you ought to play on this program one of the songs at least of Jane Sapp, who is on the program. Well, that might be a good moment perhaps now. Jane Sapp is a marvelous singer, and I -- what, was she a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock or did she sing on her own? She worked with -- She worked. That's a marvelous group was organized by an old friend of Pete's, Bernice Reagon. And here we have, suppose we hear Jane Sapp right now and, and a spiritual she sings. [pause in recording] That was Jane Sapp, one of her own recordings. She'll be singing that tonight, that and some other powerful spirituals and work songs I'm sure, and that's tonight at the Auditorium Theatre. Tickets are pretty well sold out, but you can -- well there're some left, though, if you call up the Auditorium and -- or come down there, it's a, going quite event with Pete Seeger, Mrs. Reece will be there, and honored, as well as Bill Worthington, the miner who sings and Jane Sapp, and then the audience'll be some quite remarkable people. Myles Horton of the Highlander Folk School in Knoxville, where you live, Mrs. Reece will be there, so we'll take a slight pause now. We'll hear from Don Tait and we'll return, perhaps with more of your thoughts, Mrs. Reece and perhaps Pete's comments and a song or two from Pete, too, after this message from Don. [pause in recording] We're resuming the conversation, reflections of my two guests here this morning on this spring day, pre-spring day. Mrs. Florence Reece, for those of you who may have tuned in late, she is the miner's wife, the woman who wrote that anthem you might say of working people, "Which Side Are You On?," the one you heard the Almanac sing in the beginning when Pete was 21 years old, and Pete Seeger, more on that. Just a word about Pete, perhaps. You know, Pete receives scores of requests, hundreds of requests to sing everywhere, and he just picks his own places. He wants to sing what he feels it means something and we're honored of course that, as indeed the labor education people are, that Pete is singing there tonight. We're honored, too with you, Mrs. Reece, you've been involved in so many matters as far as fighting for the better life. You organized something called the Brookside Woman's Club. Is that in Harlan County? Yes, it's in Harlan County. Well, for -- so for young people listening today who knew little about this, as my contemporaries know little, how things -- Harlan County is a, is a famous, infamous name in labor battles, isn't it? Bloody Harlan County it was called, and it was bloody because there was men killed. And, um, and this women's club, the, their husbands, well, they didn't want their wives to get involved you know, or anything. So I went up there since my father was a coal miner and my husband's a coal miner. My father was killed in the coal mines in 1914 and he was loading coal at 15 cents a ton, they didn't have a union. And the coal operators didn't give my mother one penny. They didn't bury him or anything. So then my husband, he's slowly dying of the black lung, so I told him that I wasn't a miner, but I was just as near one as I could get, not to be one. So we went up there, and two girls and me, and we talked, they talked to the women and I talked some, so there's men sitting up there whittling, and I'm, thought I'd go out there and talk to them since they told me they didn't want their wives getting, you know, getting involved, go to jail or something. And I went out there and talked to them, but they didn't -- they didn't want to talk to me, seemed like they didn't want to talk to me much. And then I told them who I was, and I asked them if they'd ever hear of "Which Side Are You On?" and they quit whittling then, they straightened up and then went to talking to me. So that was good. I appreciated that so much. And from then on, the organizers, they came, you know, and we talked, and they wanted me to stay, but I couldn't stay, so I'd, I'd go every day or twice a week, you know, and talk to the women, I'd go to the jai -- to the trials, and they put the women in jail, and they put their children in with 'em, and so they asked me, said, "What do you think of this?" and I said, "I think it's the dirtiest thing that ever happened in Kentucky, of putting women in and and their children also." So they, they got out, and then the women, they went, they went on the picket line then, so they had to, they wouldn't allow but three men, and the men couldn't stop the scabs, so they went in there, and first they started with switches of whipping the scabs, and that, that would not The women? The women, and that wasn't enough. They had to -- they got sticks and they got clubs. And so the scabs got by 'em one time. And then the women found out they's up there and they wouldn't let 'em come out. They beat the tar out of them when they come out and got by. They kept them behind that building nearly all night, and they said, "Well, we can't get out of here, we can't go home," and the women says, "Well, you got up there. You had no business to go up there." But they dragged them women to cross the road, them guards, thugs, or whatever there was, and it was bad, but it wasn't as bad as the '30s, but it would have been if they hadn't, you know, settled. So you organized the, the Brookside? Yeah, I, I was right in there with 'em. I was doing everything I could do to help 'em. And, and they appreciated. So we got, I got leaflets up in Knoxville. Electrician paid for a lot of leaflets. I sent 'em all, they said in the jail when they was in there, women said, "We can't do nothing." I said, "I can. I can get out and I'll do something." So I got the leaflets. I sent 'em all over the country. To New York, Washington, California, Chicago, ever -- all the union places that I could send, and I wrote to George Meany. I sent him my piece about him, you know? And then I sent him the leaflet and I wrote him a letter. I said, "You can help these miners. I know you can help 'em. Their back's to the wall, and every union man should stand side-by-side. But I never heard one word from him. He didn't help 'em. So I don't know why, why he didn't help 'em. You know, this is a great tradition of organizing, of, now, in fact, one of most wonderful things about this country is the, the way you rank and file people will take into their hands the determination to, to organize something. Don't leave it up to some -- you know, saying, well, it's somebody else's job to do it. If it has, job has to be done, people will just up and do it. And throughout America today, there's thousands of communi-- communities where people are organizing. Now, some people don't like organizations. I, I even in -- I've known people who say, "Oh, I don't like organizations, period." But I'm convinced that this is just because they -- people who say they hate organizations is because they've never seen what can happen if you make it democratic, if the rank and file get involved. Oh, you know, I've seen people who say they hate unions, because all they know about a union is, is, is reading in the new -- headlines what George Meany doesn't do. Or the Teamsters do, certain, yeah. Anf yet, what you don't read in the headlines is the thousands of cases where people like Florence Reece here have decided, "Well, somebody's got to do something," and they just up and do it. They get on the telephone, or they write letters or postcards, or they go knock on doors, ring doorbells, or just walk down the street and go in the stores, or in the bars, and, and saying, "We got to do something," and you start talking, and, there'll be ups and downs in this. But I'm convinced that this is the hope for this country is all these rank and file people. You can get discouraged sometimes because it's true, a little organization seems like it's drowned by the power of the government, the power of the coal operators, or, or power of the big business or the multinationals. But you get enough of these small little things, they're gonna all add up. Florence, there was a great Black woman lived 130 years ago named Sojourner Truth, and she was going around the country preaching against slavery, and people just thought she was foolish in, you know, how you gonna stop slavery? One woman going around preaching, and a white politician said, "Woman, I care no more for you than a mosquito." She said, "Praise God, I'm gonna keep you scratching." [laughing] So every, everybody listening. Anybody should realize that you too can do something. Right. We, uh -- my husband and me, Sam used to go down to the washer. And now we would talk to the people about, talk to 'em about Brookside then and I'd tell 'em how hard the women was a-having it, and, and so they would, they didn't want to listen. And they'd tell their children to get off the table and to sit down and all that stuff. So one woman brought up how high bacon was, this fat bacon. I said there you have it. The Brookside women has to buy that bacon, too. And I, and so I got to talking to 'em about the high prices. Well it hit their stomach, then they come out for the women at Brookside. They knew, but they, they hadn't been told that, they didn't know, nobody wouldn't tell 'em, they'd talk about something else, they didn't want the high prices, but they didn't know what to do about it. I said, "What you can do about it is stick together." I say, "You stick together with the union and you'll win. But if you don't, you're gonna lose." And so then after they leave, so then Myles said, "Well" Myles Horton. Yeah. Myles Horton said, "Now, that'd be a good title for a book. How to organize in the washer." [laughing] And it'll all come out in the wash. [banjo playing] What hasn't been mentioned so far is the kind of people that Florence Reece comes from are the singingest people in the country almost, among the singingest, and that part of the world has so much good music in it. That's where I went to learn how to pick a banjo 40 years ago. [plays banjo] You, it was down there you learned the banjo? Or the, or the -- think I didn't learn from any one person, but every time I met somebody who could pick a banjo I'd kind of hang around a day or two, uh, and learn a little here and a little there. Yeah -- Mrs. Reece? Pete do you, do you remember "The Hungry Little Boy" that I wrote and it was in -- oh, what is this book? The little paper, you know, that I had -- there was several [my "Sing Out!" magazine? Yeah, "Sing Out!" Do you, do you remember that? No, I don't. You, you tell us. Well, the story of it was the, the father and mother lived in a little shack. It wasn't a coal miner, but the father is out of work and the mother's in the hospital and they had three children. So, um, one of the little boys went out and they lived next to a huge brick church. So one of the little boys went out and was setting in shade said, said "Come out here and let's talk." He was four-year-old, and I said, "What do you want to talk about?" He said, "I'm wanting to tell you what I'm going to do, I'm going to get a man." I said, "What are you going to do?" He said, "I'm gonna build me a house like that." I said, "That's a church." He said, "I'll build me a church." I said, "Who will be the preacher?" He said, "I will." I said, "What'll you preach about?" He said, "I'll preach over 'em when they die." I said, "What'll you say?" He said, "I'll say they's hungry." He was hungry, and that's all he could understand. So if you'd like, I'll sing the little song. Oh, About

Studs Terkel Oh, of course.

Florence Reece I can't sing much, but you'll get the words

Studs Terkel You're great.

Florence Reece [Sings] "I saw a little boy running down the street, his little nose is red and he had dirty feet. He's going to the grocery to get a loaf of bread, 'My daddy's out of work, and my mama's sick in bed.' I followed him home. You can take it from me. The rats and the roaches were making whoopee. I went to the church, I bowed my head. I never heard a word that the preacher man said. I run from the church that I'm losing my soul. The little boy's hungry and his house is so cold." And that was truth. That was true.

Studs Terkel Pete, Mrs. Reece writes these songs, you write 'em out of your own experience of

Florence Reece Right.

Studs Terkel And that's what it's about, isn't it, really? We come back to it again, don't we?

Florence Reece I can't write love songs and things like that. People, young people can have their own love songs, but I want to write for the, for the workers, for the people to get food and housings and, and medical care. That's what I want. That's what I want to write

Pete Seeger I think we should realize this is an old, old tradition. It isn't something that was suddenly invented in the 20th century, the idea of making up these protest songs. Uh, somebody told me that back on the Egyptian pyramids they deciphered those hieroglyphics, found that one of the songs was, one of the writings is a farmer telling about the high taxes and that he didn't have enough to eat, and the people that came over here from Scotland and England had a tradition of making up rhymes and poems of the nursery rhymes, which we know now, were often a kind of a double talk. They were really saying something about well, like "Robin the bobbin, the big-bellied Ben, ate more meat than three score men, swallowed the church, swallowed the steeple, swallowed the priest and all the people. Still, his belly wasn't full." It's an old Mother Goose rhyme. Well, a friend of mine did some research and he found out that was really about King Henry VIII. You've seen his pic-- painting with a big pot belly, and he was taking over the Church of England because he wanted all those lands for his own. He wanted that loot. "Robin the bobbin, the big-bellied Ben. Ate more meat than three score men. Swallowed the church, swallowed the steeple, swallowed the priest and all the people. Still his belly wasn't full." And, just two weeks ago I was over in England and a young Scottish woman sang me a ballad which I haven't been able to get out of my brain for the last week or so since she sung it to me, written by a young woman working in a jute mill up in Scotland. [Sings] "Oh, dear me. The mill's going fast. The poor wee shifters cannot get no rest, spinning, shifting, weaving weft, warp and twine to feed and clad my bairnees often 10 and 9." Ten shillings and nine pence is what they got paid a week, and to feed and cly -- clothe my children off of 10 and nine. [sings] "Oh, dear me, the world's ill divided. Them that works the hardest are always least provided. Spinning, shifting, weaving, weft, warp and twine. There's little pleasure living off in 10 and nine." The woman who wrote it is an old, old woman now, she lives up in Dundee, Scotland. Mary Brooksbank. Aft -- my wife and I were just overseas for a couple weeks. We went from England down to Spain, and Spain today is very different from what it was under Franco. I guess the people figured they had to loosen up things or else the whole country would explode. It was just seething, had, had to let off steam somehow. Well, for the first time in 40 years, they're able to say things, sing things, there's still a lot of problems, but I sang for 7000 people, that old Spanish loyalists song "Viva la quinta brigada," and 7000 rumbala, rumbala, rumbala. I wondered, "How did they know it?" Well, even under Franco, these songs were smuggled in, and the couple, a man and his wife, who arranged the concert, were telling us that people, even with -- on the threat of torture by the police if they got captured, they would keep singing these songs. He said every May Day, he would call up his mother, and they had an old -- a, a Spanish version of an old revolutionary song, and it was funny. [Sings] "Arriba los de la cucharra, abajo los de tenedor." And it says, "Arise, you who use the spoon, down with those who use the fork."

Studs Terkel It's interesting, Pete, I know that you just returned from Spain and, you're singing for the 7000 there in Madrid and where? Barcelona, too. I suppose, we're really talking, aren't we, Mrs. Reece, the world over, the same people, aren't they?

Florence Reece Oh.

Studs Terkel Pretty much battin' the same kinds of people

Pete Seeger You know what? This really gets to what, what is so fundamental. The entire world, north, south, east and west and I'd, I'd like to read this poem which the author is unknown, but Florence Reece handed it to me just before we went on the air. "When every bloody man of war is taken out and sunk, and all of hell's artillery is hammered into junk, and the Plunderbund is swatted still, and only those who toil shall have and eat and use the things from mine and mill and soil, where those who do the works that's done shall own the tools and jobs and will not feed the drones on corn, while they themselves eat cobs. When Labor blows its trumpet blast in hallelujah tones and nothing but a garbage heap is left of kings and thrones, and everyone shall sit beneath his fig tree and his vine, and the tides of life shall mingle in the human and divine, and a little child shall lead them as the old, old story ran. I'll meet you there, my comrades, in the brotherhood of man." And sisterhood.

Florence Reece That is wonderful, but I'd, I'd like to know the author, but I don't. But I give that anyway,

Studs Terkel You know, that word "anonymous," that word anonymous is a really glorious word, isn't it? You know, ever -- they're all, that's everybody. Mrs. Reece, gotta ask Florence Reece a question. How'd you get this way? How'd you become such a troublemaker?

Florence Reece Um, well, I'm, ever since I was just a baby, you know, that my brothers and sisters, they would always want me to -- if we would have any cats to die or dogs to die, they'd want me to come and sing over 'em, and I was just a little five or six-year-old, so I'd have to just make up a song and sing it, so I kept on and on and on, then making different songs, so I've made a, a lot, you know, a lot of songs, but recently I just want to make the workers' songs.

Pete Seeger If they only knew the tune, the most recent one that Florence has written. Why don't you re-- you tell, tell us the words of the most recent song you wrote, which Guy wrote a tune to, well, I don't know the tune.

Florence Reece Yeah, well, I, the miners was on strike, and, they wanted me to come. My husband's sick, I couldn't go, so I thought I had to do something, just had to do something, maybe a word would help 'em. So I wrote this poem, and I said, "The strike was on, there's a picket line. Scabs taking our jobs, we felt like crying. The guard came on with guns in hand, the low-down guards couldn't understand. We're peaceful men, don't want to fight. But we'll beat you up if you scab tonight. They put us in jail. What a disgrace. Our wives and sons took our place. I'm, I'm a-telling you now we had a hell of a fight. But the best part of all, we're gonna win our strike."

Studs Terkel That's made for a song, isn't it, Pete?

Florence Reece Yep, they, they's music too, that but a, but Guy Carawan, you probably know him, that he put the music to it.

Studs Terkel Earlier Pete was talking about when we heard the Almanacs of some 30-some years ago singing "Which Side Are You On?" and you said it came from a hymn. So all this becomes grist for your mill, doesn't it? Like a church song becomes, the music becomes the basis of a, a workers' song. A miner or a scrapper song. Pete, what comes to your mind? This, you know, how remarkably quick, we have oh, about eight, nine minutes left or so. Here

Pete Seeger I hope people listening will realize that they, too, can write songs. There's millions of songs to be written still in the world. In fact, the ballad for Americans' eating habits are our greatest songs yet unsong, and the human race's greatest times have yet to come. We're just now in the, it's darkest before the dawn. When you read the papers and listen to the TV and think, "Well, the world's just bound for, for doom, there's no hope." But all around the world there are people who are not giving up. And anybody listening should not say, "Well, I, there's nothing I can do. I'm only one person." One person can do an awful lot. Oh, you'd be interested in this. A young fellow about five years ago was visiting us and he said, "Do you have some paint left over? I want to paint something." I said, "What do you want to paint?" He said, "Well, I was thinking painting on the back of your barn." I said, "Well, okay, do it on the back, not the front." I wasn't sure what he was gonna do. I went out afterwards and he had scrawled high up in big letters, it -- they -- it took up 10 or 15 feet wide a quotation -- I found it, he signed it William James, he was a famous philosopher, used to teach at Harvard. And here's what he wrote: "I am done with big things and great things. With big institutions and great success. And I am for all those tiny molecular moral forces that creep from individual to individual, like so many rootlets or like the capillary action of water yet which, if you give them time, will render the hardest monuments of man's pride."

Studs Terkel That is, isn't it

Florence Reece -- That was good. He put that on your barn. [laughing]

Studs Terkel Isn't that good, 'cause it is

Florence Reece That was good, and all the people could read it.

Pete Seeger That's right.

Florence Reece That's

Pete Seeger In other words, all these little things is going on through the world. Millions of people, hundreds of millions of people. In Africa, in South America and Asia.

Studs Terkel Neighborhood movements.

Pete Seeger Neighborhood move--

Studs Terkel Neighborhood

Pete Seeger People out to -- and they're not gonna run away anymore. You see, for a long time people said, "I'm gonna run. If, I'll look for greener pastures somewhere else." And they're not gonna run away anymore and they're gonna change things. Women

Studs Terkel You know, as we're talking, I realize Mrs. Reece there's so much of your life that is rich and powerful, and you've gone through a great deal of trial and tribulation. But out of it is this artist, you, that's what Pete's talking about. The hour is gone, but you'll be there tonight of course.

Florence Reece Yes.

Studs Terkel I hope you'll say a few words tonight. Oh, this -- mention the, the rebellion R and

Unidentified Man Rank and file.

Studs Terkel Oh, the rank and file rebellion. Someone gave me a note. You mean is that a story?

Unidentified Man No, but that's what we'll

Studs Terkel Oh, what's happening generally! Oh, yeah, well that's implied here, of course there -- we're talking about rank -- that's a beautiful words, rank and file. And I was thinking you'll be there tonight and perhaps say a few words. And might even sing a song you feel like. And there's Pete of course will be there tonight, singing songs as he said from, written by women you say Pete, or inspired

Pete Seeger That's right.

Studs Terkel And, and Bill Worthington

Pete Seeger And we hope we'll have 3000 people or more singing with us.

Studs Terkel Great. Is there, out of your capacious song bag, Brother Seeger, is there something comes to your mind as we say goodbye for now until this evening?

Pete Seeger Well, [sings and plays banjo] "Some say it's darkest before the dawn. This thought keeps us moving on. If we could heed these early warnings, the time is now quite early morning. If we could heed these early warnings, the time is now, quite early morning. Some say that humankind won't long endure, but what makes them feel so dog-gone sure? I know that you who hear my singing will make those freedom bells go ringing. I know that you who hear my singing could make those freedom bells go ringing."