Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill Riot

Russ Protest has written a new pamphlet – Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill Riots…

Seventy years ago this year an outside concert was scheduled just outside of the little town of Peekskill in upstate New York to raise funds for a civil rights organisation. The concert was to feature Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and others.

The concert never happened.

It was attacked by a racist mob. Welding clubs and brass knuckles and hurling rocks who smashed the venue and brutally assaulted the people there. In the hills overlooking the venue appeared a burning cross – symbol of the Ku Klux Klan. The police stood by and did nothing.

A week later the organisers held the concert again. This time they took security into their own hands. Some 3000 trade unionists formed a barrier right around the concert ground. This kept the concert safe from attack but there were snipers spotted in the surrounding hills so in an act of astonishing courage a handful of working people formed a human shield around Paul Robeson as he took to the stage.

The concert passed off peacefully but as the concert goers left to go home the cops diverted their cars and busses down back roads where they came under a hail of rocks from thousands of right wing thugs. Some pulled people out of the gridlocked cars and beat them to a pulp. People were brutalised, some were maimed.

The story of the Peekskill riots is the story of a flash point between the organised working class and the forces of reaction during a time of political instability. Ordinary people were split and disorientated by a barrage of witch-hunting, manipulation and fake news and turned against each other.

Sound familiar?

I’ve written up the story of the Peekskill riots in a new pamphlet – Hold the Line: Echoes of the Peekskill riots.

It was something to do to drown out Lol’s chatting on a long train journey back from a Protest Family gig.

I tell the story of the riots, introduce the main characters, look at the political background of the US in the mid twentieth century and examine the parallels to the age of Trump, Charlottesville and the rise of the far right across the globe.

It’s been an interesting experience to write. I visited Peekskill and even interviewed one of the last surviving eyewitnesses. It’s not an academic book, I hope it rattles along telling a good yarn about very remarkable and brave people.

The far right are on the march all over the world and there are important lessons to be drawn from what happened at Peekskill and how the ordinary working folk responded to it. We have to hold the line!

The book is available from Bookmarks

And is also available for Kindle

The book has it’s own website at https://holdthelinepeekskill.com/

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