The anti-communist and racist Peekskill riots took place today in 1949 in Van Cortlandtville, Westchester County, New York.
They were sparked by a concert by socialist Paul Robeson, which had already been postponed once before for fear of stirring unrest. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people came to the rescheduled concert. While the concert itself was peaceful, mainly due to thousands of union members and soldiers volunteering to provide security, the aftermath left 145 people injured.
‘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 lone September day
We will hold the line forever ’til the people have their way.
Spoken (Howard Fast):
My name is Howard Fast. I’m here to tell you the story of Peekskill. You see, there are actually two Peekskills. Two concerts. Two fascist attacks. And I was at both. You won’t get the true story from the daily press or the radio, so we’re putting it on record for you now. Here are the facts … The Klan elements in Westchester county threatened violence. Police protection was asked. Four deputies showed up to watch 700 so-called veterans attack the early picnickers. These 700 hoodlums closed the only exits, and for three hours they were kept from killing the women and children by a brave group of 39 men and boys, negro and white. Before the police came, the mob had smashed the rented chairs and burned our music, while they shouted anti-negro and anti-semitic epithets, and boasted that they would finish Hitler’s job.’
Lyrics as recorded by Howard Fast, narrator: Peter Seeger
September 7, 1949, released as Charter C502A/C502B, reprinted in Songs For Political Action (accompanying book), Bear Family Records, page 174
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