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Labor Action, 5 September 1949


Robeson Meet Broken Up by
KKK, Vets; Cops Play ’Possum


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 36, 5 September 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A mob one thousand strong under the leadersip of the local branches of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Catholic War Veterans disrupted an open-air concert of the CP-controlled Civil Rights Congress near Peekskill, N.Y., on Saturday evening, August 27. Paul Robeson had been scheduled to sing, but the mass fighting that broke out at the entrance to the picnic grounds compelled a cancellation of plans.

While the battling spread, burning crosses, emblem of the Ku Klux Klan, blazed up in the fields nearby. A national “adjutant” of the Southern Knights of the KKK, now conducting an organizing drive in New York State, said that as far as he knew the KKK was not involved, but commented: “They’ve got a good bunch of veterans up there.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the local chapter of the Americans Democratic Action have denounced the assault on the CRC picnic as an outrageous attack on civil liberties and the rights of free assembly, and have demanded an immediate investigation by Governor Dewey.

Conspiracy Indicated

As a by-product of the event, permission for Vito Marcantonio to speak at an American Labor Party rally later this week at the nearby Mohegan Colony was revoked by its directors. The CRC at a mass meeting announced plans for a mass protest march on Albany.

As usual in cases where the rights of minorities are threatened by fascists hoodlum elements, the local and state police and the county officials were unable to summon up that zeal for law and order which they seem to reserve only for strike picket lines.

Although news of the demonstration against the CRC was known long in advance, the Peekskill police waited three miles away, presumably expecting a special massage to be delivered by ox-cart via California. First Sergeant Johnson of the state police explains that he wasn’t going to be tricked into sending, a protective detail: “There was no need to be there in advance. We don’t play into the hands of the Communists. We went in when we found a crime had been committed.”

The hoodlum demonstration and fighting continued for the two hours from 8 to 10 p.m. while two state troopers busied themselves directing traffic. Finally four state police arrived at the scene. Apparently the state police waited for the local police to act while the local boys waited. But they may rest easy, knowing that this is not the sort of jurisdictional dispute punishable under the Taft-Hartley Law.

The facts point to a planned conspiracy by officials of the county with reactionary veteran outfits to put over the anti-democratic demonstration. County Clerk Robert J. Field was an active leader of the demonstration. He admits participating but claims to have gone home before the fighting started. His effort to escape responsibility for the lawless violence is as feeble as that of the commanders of the American Legion and Catholic War Veterans – who saw no fighting, they say, although they admit being on the scene until 9 p.m., one hour after the battle began.

District Attorney George M. Fanelli speedily concluded, on the basis of conveniently supplied “facts” (by whom, he does not say) that the violence was provoked by those who came to hear Robeson! Lack of imagination alone must restrain him from claiming that the Stalinists broke up their own picnic.

Only the legal mind of a district attorney would ignore the plain statement of provocation of Milton Flynt, commander of Peekskill Post 274 of the Legion: “Our objective was to prevent the Paul Robeson concert and I think our objective was reached.”

In this case, we see clearly how the loyalty witchhunts, the drive to outlaw the Communist Party and the hysteria of the cold war quickly spill over into a type of fascistic violence that threatens the civil rights of all. And we shall also soon see how ingeniously the Stalinists can employ precisely such outrageous attacks to ward off justified political criticism and hold on to their waning influence among workers.

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