The following is an excerpt from David King Dunaway’s book, “How Can I Keep From Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger.”
THE PEEKSKILL RIOTS were an unsubtle threat that drew leftists together. “The people in Peekskill were calling out to the rest of America,” said Seeger, remembering his alarm. “Whenever you find a Commie around, do something about it-don’t wait for the long process of the law, do it right away, because our country is in danger.”
Two weeks after the event, Lee Hays, Pete Seeger, and friends had worked up a new song, “Hold the Line.”
Let me tell you the story of a line that was held,
And many men and women whose courage we know well;
As they held the line at Peekskill on that long September day, We will hold the line forever till the people have their way. Hold the line! Hold the line!
As we held the line at Peekskill we will hold it everywhere.
Which line was really held? The one separating radicals from the rest of America? The Party’s? Or perhaps the barrier separating civil liberties from mob rule-but this line had broken down.
At first glance, “Hold the Line” seems a bluff. The cold war was heating up, and only a few months later the junior senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, would begin waving his list of secret Communists. But Seeger was terribly serious about the song; optimism and perseverance were the bedrock of his art, a music born of political adversity. His songs were blunt weapons, but he lanced them with all his might.