Introduction by William L. Patterson
THE NAME of Peekskill will forever be linked with the name of Paul Robeson. Peekskill is a milepost in the great anti-fascist struggles of progressive America. Peekskill will also in the future be synonymous with Negro-white unity in struggle. Thereby Peekskill becomes more than a name, more than a city; Peekskill has become a symbol of progressive America.
August 27, 1949 was almost the great day of American fascism. On August 27, 1949, fascism unloosed its worst filth and anger against the American people in general and the Negro people in particular; and on that day, because Negro and white stood together, supported by the working class, fascism failed.
Where is it that the fascists are not inhumanly stupid beasts? They do not understand the people's love of democracy, nor can they ever understand the people's hatred of fascism, which is almost a quality of life itself. And here in America they had no concept of the depth of the people's love for Paul Robeson.
How reaction honored that majestic figure of an American when those murderous imitators of Adolf Hitler selected the Paul Robeson concert as the point of consolidation of storm trooper organization! It was only their blind white chauvinism and their blind hatred and fear of Paul Robeson which led them to make so colossal a mistake.
Paul Robeson is as beloved to all decent Americans as he is, for example, to the courageous anti-fascists of Spain before whom he sang his inspiring people's songs when they faced Franco in the trenches before Madrid. Paul Robeson is beloved of 475 million Chinese people. There is no child in Eastern Europe who cannot sing you one of the favorite songs of Paul Robeson. And among the people of Europe you will find an overwhelming love for this black giant of a man America has produced and given to the progressive struggles of all mankind.
When Paul Robeson made his memorable speech at the Paris Peace Conference, he declared with almost prophetic foresight, that Negroes who are lynched and degraded with impunity, who are jim-crowed and segregated even in so-called democratic armies, who are relegated to ghetto life, who are daily victims of police brutality, of malnutrition and of slum life, will not fight those whose program has, in a few short years, ended man's exploitation of man. When Paul Robeson said that, he identified Negro America with the best and most forward-looking elements of mankind.
American fascism did not want this man to elaborate upon those brief remarks. He had too much evidence to support his words. The case of the Trenton Six, of the Martinsville Seven, the case of Willie McGee, of Rosa Lee Ingram, and most clearly the case of the Communists, supported too well the arguments of Paul Robeson.
Reaction wanted to quiet his voice once and forever. The murder of Paul Robeson was a part of the official program of American reaction on August 27, 1949.
But the people took the issue under advisement and the fascist program was revised. The great lesson of Peekskill is that the American people have the will to fight back and the power to smash tyranny and fascism. Peekskill has taught us that 300 years of filthy racist propaganda, unchallenged by any moral crusade on the part of the church, has blunted but not destroyed the moral sensitivity of the white masses. It has proven that sections of labor are moving in defense of Negro rights, not through charity but animated by an understanding that neither worker nor Negro can win alone.
Spokesmen for the ruling cliques argue with great fervor, "If only the people of Europe knew us as we truly are they would willingly listen to our program for war and armaments."
Perhaps it is because the people of Europe know only too well what happened at Peekskill and what the meaning of Peekskill was that they doubt the "peaceful" purposes of American reaction. Perhaps it is because the people of Asia and Europe know the conditions under which the American Negro lives that they have such a great measure of distrust and contempt for those who scream of their right to moral leadership of the world.
"As we held the line at Peekskill, we will hold it everywhere."
This was the slogan that emerged from the Peekskill struggle. These words echo and re-echo throughout the land. This book will give impetus to these words.
These words are a reaffirmation of our will to struggle. August 27 and September 4, 1949, the two dates of Peekskill, are fixed upon the calendar of free America. Through this struggle we have come closer to the free America we all dream of.
Howard Fast adds to his stature with this simple story. He lived through both Peekskill incidents. He was in the front line of the battle against the fascists. That they were beaten is due in no small part to his heroic leadership.
Now to the greatest lesson that Peekskill taught us unity, more unity, and still more unity of white and Negro America. Such unity guarantees greater victories for peace and democracy. Disunity spells death and world disaster.
The Civil Rights Congress, dedicated to the cause of constitutional liberties and civil and human rights, is proud to make this timely book available to the American people. We believe that it strengthens the arsenal of human liberty, that it will rearm the weak, clarify the thinking of those who are still confused, and refute those whose lies and vicious racism have brought such disgrace to our country.
WILLIAM L. PATTERSON