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That was a strange year, I949.
December 1, 2003 8:34 AM   Subscribe

Peekskill, 1949. "The mob was rolling toward us for the second attack. This was, in a way, the worst of that night. For one thing, it was still daylight; later, when night fell, our own sense of organization helped us much more, but this was daylight and they poured down the road and into us, swinging broken fenceposts, billies, bottles, and wielding knives..." Howard Fast's account of a terrifying evening that was supposed to be an outdoor concert near Peekskill, NY. You can think about the political implications ("...it illustrates how easily, when terror is unleashed in a nation, it can take hold, and how thin the line is that separates constitutional government from tyranny and dictatorship...") or just enjoy the riveting tale. (Related song and picture here.)
posted by languagehat (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Great link. People in the "with us or against us" crowd never seem to recognize where that kind of thinking leads.

I wonder if any of the rioters has offered an account (or an apology) for such indefensible savagery.
posted by rcade at 9:29 AM on December 1, 2003


Good post languagehat - there seem to be increasing parallels between that time and now. I love the main site that comes from, btw - one of my favorites - a treasure trove of good stuff!

And from your second link, The Talking Un-American Blues...hopefully that won't regain popularity anytime soon.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:31 AM on December 1, 2003


I found the hyphenation utterly bizarre, but it was a compelling read.
posted by kindall at 9:45 AM on December 1, 2003


Harrowing stuff--particularly when you read it and suspect that such scenes are still being enacted on a regular basis in our great nation, only on a smaller scale. And our current administration appears to be fostering an environment where these episodes would flourish.
posted by clever sheep at 9:58 AM on December 1, 2003


Wow!

Time to dig out my Weavers box set.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:03 AM on December 1, 2003


Billy Bragg and Wilco have also recorded a song written by Woody Guthrie about Peekskill '49 called My Thirty Thousand. It didn't make it onto Mermaid Avenue I or II, but it was released as a single. I can't find a source for lyrics or commentary online and I don't have time to put down the lyrics, but it's quite rave up.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:37 AM on December 1, 2003


A nice read. Fast (I had met him) has a book out on this event, and there are some mighty nice pictures, including one of a pot-bellied state trooper who looks the spitting image of Pres. LBJ. The riots were egged on by editorials in the local paper, and they catered in this verbiage, to an anti-Jewish crowd, since many Jews would go to that area for summer vacationing. The group decided to use the area to welcome back Paul R from Russia, and so the anti-Jew anti-commie folks came out in force. The highway in and out was lined and rocks tossed at the "lefties."

The entire incident was of course in retrospect (years later) so embarrassing to the town that it is not noted or remarked upon, though a year or so ago a reunion of sorts was held to commemorate this blotch in America's freedoms.
posted by Postroad at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2003


A frightening account indeed. Thanks, languagehat.

kindall - the hyphenation and d/t interchanges look like the result of an unedited scan.
posted by Songdog at 11:10 AM on December 1, 2003


Postroad, you sound informed on this. Can you or anyone else point me to a source(s) from observers who don't have so obvious an axe to grind as Howard Fast? I'm not saying this thuggery didn't happen (stuff a lot worse was happening a few states to the South) just that I really wouldn't mind a little third party verification, and I'm sure not putting my trust solely in Mr. Fast.

[BTW, it's rather striking that folks here, normally so cynical and skeptical, go all flaccid and credulous when the source is some lefty. I'm just saying.]

Oh, and Clever Sheep, would you mind pointing me to where "scenes [like Peekskill] are still being enacted on a regular basis in our great nation, only on a smaller scale." The left-wing critics I see and hear are publishing books, getting tenure, being interviewed on NPR, and buying advertisements in the NYT. You're obviously better informed than I, so you'll easily be able to document how they're actually being physically attacked, etc.

Phui.
posted by mojohand at 12:21 PM on December 1, 2003


Billy Bragg and Wilco have also recorded a song written by Woody Guthrie about Peekskill '49 called My Thirty Thousand.

"Paul Robeson, he's the man
Who faced the Ku Klux Klan
On Lakeland Picnic Ground..."

Mojohand-- your insinuation is correct. It's a vast left-wing conspiracy. Really, the mob brought some lemonade and the small-town cops gave a group hug to Woody Guthrie, The Weavers and Paul Robeson.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:27 PM on December 1, 2003


BTW, it's rather striking that folks here, normally so cynical and skeptical, go all flaccid and credulous when the source is some lefty.

What's more striking is your assumption that the rest of us are as intellectually lazy as you are. I thought the story was so incredible I immediately looked for alternate accounts such as this Peekskill Riots site, a Paul Robeson site containing contemporaneous letters to the editor of the Peekskill newspaper, and this article on the riots and the songs it inspired.

As for my source for this information, here's a pointer.
posted by rcade at 1:02 PM on December 1, 2003


come on mojohand...you can google for information just like the rest of us.

here's another account that seems to be more objective. it also has links at the bottom. (and which, on preview, rcade already put up)

here's something from the History Channel
posted by taumeson at 1:15 PM on December 1, 2003


mojohand, what's with the "you're obviously better informed than I" bile? Did you not catch the use of the word suspect in my sentence? That's deliberately chosen, as it indicates an unproven point of view on my part. And note that "unproven" does not mean the same thing as "unsupportable."

I think the current administration is fostering a you're-with-us-or-against-us mentality that shows itself in many harmful forms, not solely or even primarily as mob violence. For instance, the "smaller scale" that I originally had in mind concerned the human rights abuses that have occurred against Arab, Arab American, and Muslim people in the U.S., including the recent round-ups by the INS and the unlawful detainment of people without formal charges nor access to counsel.

Want some background on that? It would take me a while, but I'm happy to do the homework if you really intended anything more than an offhand snark.
posted by clever sheep at 1:21 PM on December 1, 2003


A vast left-wing conspiracy I can handle, but...Google's part of it? And the Hitler Channel? I give up, comrade. In Amerika, Google searches you!

Thanks for the interesting read. The similarities to fascism in europe were interesting to me, since they were clearly current images for the author, not distant symbols. And noone yelled Godwin...
posted by freebird at 1:26 PM on December 1, 2003


Sigh. Yes, I do believe the word Google does ring a distant chime. But Metafilter is where people post links, you see. This was a subject being sourced solely from an author (winner of the 1954 Stalin Peace Prize) of dubious reliability. Being on deadline, I asked for more information.

And got it. For your links, rcade, and all the others that were posted I am appreciative. the original FPP would have been richer if it had included them. I recommend reading them, BTW, because they do flesh out the background of Fast's monochromatic description.

Clever Sheep, that wasn't bile. It was snark. Nice try to shift the subject to discrimination against Muslims. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for examples of lefties being physically attacked for their beliefs. Here on Planet Earth, they're winning Academy Awards and having their books on the top of the best seller lists. And I find this attempt by the Left to drape itself in the cloak of martyrdom contemptible. That, by the way, is bile.


posted by mojohand at 2:46 PM on December 1, 2003


But Metafilter is where people post links, you see.... the original FPP would have been richer if it had included them.

Well, I'll tell you, mojohand. It actually occurred to me, as I was framing this post, that it might be a good idea to include a link or two from an "objective" source to "prove" that this event actually happened and wasn't the invention of a lying commie. But I happen to prefer lean, one-or-two-link posts to the cornucopia style unless the subject demands the latter, which it didn't here: I wanted people to experience Fast's dramatic account, not delve into all aspects of (say) the suppression of protest in post-WWII America or the difficult career of Paul Robeson. And it further occurred to me that the fact that I'd even had the first thought was a sad symptom of the incipient McCarthyism of these times. So you know what I decided? Screw anybody who thinks a leftist is automatically "of dubious reliability." It's a dramatic first-person account of something that can easily be verified, and I figured if anyone were so paranoid about the evil left they needed verification, they could do the damn legwork themselves.

Many thanks to those who provided additional links (and saved mojohand some strenuous googling).
posted by languagehat at 3:10 PM on December 1, 2003


mojohand, what topic shift? I clarified some very shorthand remarks on my part. My original post that offended you is all of two sentences long, and highly generalized in nature.

I think you'd have to apply a very odd reading to my few words to infer that I thought scenes of tacitly sanctioned mob violence similar to Peekskill are happening every day. But hey, if you prefer a literal interpretation to a logical one, that's your prerogative.

Meanwhile, I expect you'll continue to ignore my clarification about seeing parallels in modern instances of government-fostered us-or-them mentality, and the injustices that ensue. Nothing there to get your bile on, huh?
posted by clever sheep at 3:26 PM on December 1, 2003


Sigh. Again. I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree whether my asking for more information within this thread rather than digging it up myself reveals some huge flaw of character.

But asking for more information when your only source is someone like Howard Fast is more than reasonable. I had no doubt something happened in Peekskill. But the real story is in the details, and there's no way I'm relying on Howard Fast as my sole source for that. The guy you choose was, at the time the events occurred, (*) an active propagandist for one of the vilest, cruelest regimes that graced the 20th century.

Let's get this straight. In 1949 Fast wasn't a leftist. He wasn't a socialist. He was a member of the Communist Party at a time when the CPUSA was, for all intents and purposes, a totally captive creature of Joseph Stalin's Soviet government, a regime that murdered 20 million in the course of Stalin's lifetime, and enslaved half of Europe.

Which returns me to my original point. I'd bet a month of paychecks you'd never cite some right-wing totalitarian apologist for anything. But I'm a paranoid for suggesting that you were less than thorough for not linking to more sources. Phui.

(*) You'll recall the piece was written in 1990. Fast remained loyal to the CPUSA until 1956.
posted by mojohand at 3:51 PM on December 1, 2003


The left-wing critics I see and hear are publishing books, getting tenure, being interviewed on NPR, and buying advertisements in the NYT.

*collapses in helpless mirth*
posted by quonsar at 4:08 PM on December 1, 2003


He was a member of the Communist Party at a time when the CPUSA was, for all intents and purposes, a totally captive creature of Joseph Stalin's Soviet government...

Jeeeezus. In the 40's and 50's, the CPUSA was receiving a lot of its operating money from the Soviets, I'll grant you. However, it was mostly a cultural organization devoted to fostering community among working people. W. E. B Dubois, Helen Keller and, of course, Paul Robeson were active members at the time.

The ideology that Stalin made public was very different than what was actually going on behind the Iron Curtain, and I know from first hand accounts that the average member was more concerned about picnics, sing-a-longs and bringing sandwiches to picketers than purging, invading Eastern Europe or airbrushing murdered colleagues out of photos. Two rungs from the top of the organization and no one knew that the CPUSA had an operating budget, much less where it came from.

You can accuse most mid-century American Communists of naivite, but you can't accuse them of promoting Stalinism.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:45 PM on December 1, 2003


Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for examples of lefties being physically attacked for their beliefs.

how about the Miami Model?
posted by dinsdale at 8:56 PM on December 1, 2003


Disturbing pix from Miami.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:12 PM on December 1, 2003


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