BEACON, NY — In January 2013, during a concert at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, Pete Seeger told the audience that more than a single day should be set aside to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
“Why not make it a five-day celebration?” he stated.
The following January, a parade for King was held in Beacon. The parade was Seeger’s idea, though he was too ill to attend. Seven days later, he passed away at age 94. His wife, Toshi, had died six months earlier, at age 91. They had been married for almost 70 years.
Led by Bonnie Champion, the parade continues as part of an annual MLK celebration at Springfield Baptist Church. Started in 1977, the celebration also includes a breakfast, a service, and a student essay contest.
“He had literally lived for the parade. So we have to carry it on,” Champion said after the most recent parade, on Feb. 16, which had been postponed a month due to inclement weather.
The parade kicked off a milestone year for Seeger. 2019 marks 100 years since he was born and 50 years since he spearheaded the construction of the Clearwater, a sloop that shares its name with a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Hudson River.
Seeger and King crossed paths twice — in 1957 at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, and in 1967 during a rally at the United Nations. Seeger and his wife also participated in the march King led from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
In January 2010, during a service at St. Luke’s Church in Beacon, Seeger stated that the lessons he learned from King were among the most important of his life. The civil rights icon, he explained, had “turned my political thinking around, my philosophical thinking around, my day-to-day action around.”
Seeger wrote a song, titled “Take it from Dr. King,” about the bus boycott in Montgomery that Rosa Parks spurred in 1955. Two lines in that song describe the civil rights movement at that time as well as Seeger’s impact then and now:
“Songs, songs, songs kept them going and growing. They didn’t know all the millions of seeds that they were sowing.”
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.