Bay Area honors Pete Seeger & Equal Justice

December 17, 2014
Marina Garde. Photo Rodolfo Graziano.

Marina Garde. Photo Rodolfo Graziano.

On a sunny October Sunday, the city of Berkeley still buzzing about the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, many alumni of that good fight, together with family and friends of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, came to the Freight & Salvage Coffee House to pay homage to the anti-fascist volunteers and veterans who risked their lives in the spirit of solidarity for equality and social justice.

“At ALBA,” said Executive Director Marina Garde in her opening remarks, “we believe that awareness is the first step to effect change: You need to know history to change history. With your support, we draw on the history of the Left to offer alternative perspectives and open the landscape of possibilities to younger generations.”

Focusing on the political legacy of the Lincoln Brigade, ALBA once again acknowledged the work of the Equal Justice Initiative, whose ground-breaking efforts on behalf of incarcerated youth and death row inmates were recognized when the 2014 ALBA/Puffin Human Rights Activism Award was granted to EJI founder and director Bryan Stevenson. Peter Carroll placed the award in the context of the Brigade’s insistence on racial equality, both on the battlefields of Spain and in the postwar years on the American home front. Excerpts from Stevenson’s speech in New York last May were presented on video, and one of his staff attorneys, Alison Mollman, spoke about the EJI’s work in the effort to bring justice to young prisoners facing lifetime sentences and for wrongfully convicted adults, as well as EJI’s expanding educational programs. 

This 78th Anniversary event also featured the Spanish Civil War songs made famous by their troubadour, the late Pete Seeger, who sang for the Lincoln veterans more than any other performer. UC/Berkeley professor and ALBA Board member Peter Glazer spoke about Seeger’s influence on the Left and announced that Seeger’s famous albums, along with other recordings of Spanish Civil War, had just been released by the Smithsonian Institute. Glazer is the author of the CD’s new liner notes.

In Seeger’s absence, bass player and vocalist Bruce Barthol brought together a quintet of superb musicians—soprano Velina Brown, pianist Randy Craig, guitarist Barrett Nelson, and fiddler Tony Marcus—who touched the audience with familiar songs, as well as Barthol’s haunting melody, “Taste of Ashes.” Local singer Barbara Dane joined the band for the dramatic finale, “Viva La Quince Brigada,” as did ALBA Board Chair and trumpeter Sebastiaan Faber.

In the end, as ever, it was the music that energized the audience and brought the memories back to life.