I remember watching a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in San Francisco, when for the first time, instead of cowering and taking the Fifth Amendment, people were answering, “Sure I’m a communist. Aren’t you?” And in essence, that was the end of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
I think this was the spirit I identified with when I met the young people who were running the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1965. I was interested in SNCC from the very beginning. The kids in SNCC were putting their butts on the line and doing everything they were supposed to. The students had organized themselves, they had gone down to the south, they had conducted a struggle that I think to this day was an example of what a movement should look like and how it should conduct itself. And they inspired people all over the country. They brought out the best in black youth, and they brought lots of white youth out too. Above all, they blew the shop whistle and told us it was time to get back to work. It got my political juices flowing again.
We recorded the Freedom Singers for Mercury, the only commercial label that ever did that, something I took great pride in. It took some guts on Green’s part, too, because at that point there was still great fear. I worked out the terms with Mike Standard, the lawyer for SNCC. They produced it themselves; we did nothing but roll the tape. Everybody was scared to interfere, which was ironic because the always-pompous left press reviewed the album as a crass commercialization of what had been a good, pure folk group.
One night we had Henry Mancini and Peter, Paul and Mary doing McCormick Place, and we decided to throw a fundraiser for SNCC before the show. John Lewis was there to give a little talk. It was not a big event, to say the least; if there were 15 people there it was a lot. We did it on three days’ notice and it was at 4:30 in the afternoon because they were doing two shows at McCormick Place. We raised two or three thousand dollars, because my neighbor and Peter, Paul and Mary and I and Mancini each gave $500. But to Henry it was one of the most significant things in his life. Twice I ran into him years later and he remembered it as a big thing he had done. Each time he had to remind me, because I’d forgotten it – it wasn’t very successful, really.