Seeing clips of the hate-filled faces in Charlottesville I was reminded of the same toxic look I was confronted with from a Peekskill mob when I was 16. Two weeks from tomorrow will be the 68th anniversary. The occasion was a Paul Robeson concert on a Sunday afternoon at a field in Westchester County, N.Y.
One week before, the event was called off when hundreds of KKK demonstrators burned crosses and hung Robeson in effigy. He was determined to be heard so the concert was rescheduled for the following week.
We arrived by chartered bus without incident joining twenty thousand others. After the national anthem Pete Seeger sang a few songs and then Robeson held us in awe for about an hour ending with Old Man River. His base baritone voice seemed to shiver my blood stream. I remember a police helicopter flying over the stage as a token of harassment and an omen of what was to come.
The trouble was waiting for us in exiting the grounds. Both sides of a narrow road were lined with rock-throwing racists, American Legionaires or otherwise civil towns-people who had been whipped up to a frenzy by the media.
In a glaring example of fake news Robeson was misquoted by the Associated Press as having said, the U.S. is similar to Hitler and that American Negros would never go to war against the Soviet Union. He actually said, We reject any hysterical raving that urges us to make war on anyone. Our will to fight for peace is strong and we support peace and friendship among all nations.
We were forced to make our way through a gauntlet of snarling faces into our bus and then take to the floor as a barrage of stones smashed the windows while we slowly made our way to the highway avoiding the broken glass on the floor. We were among the fortunate. Some cars had been overturned and passengers beaten. The mob was actually abetted by the police who were said to have supplied the stones and were photographed laughing during the attack.
The WE was my parents and friend, Stan. Telling this story today gives new meaning to getting stoned at a concert. How sad to be returned to America at its ugliest. Hatred dies a slow death particularly when endorsed by our president.