From August 24 to September 4, 1949, I took part in a very strange and somewhat terrible incident, which has already become an important part of the postwar history of the United States. For many generations to come, the Peekskill Affair will be recalled and discussed, and it will remain for historians, with their broader and more complete point of view, to decide the final import and significance of this incident.
For myself, close as I am to it, I still see it in somewhat subjective terms. It was the first great open manifestation of American fascism; but whether it was part of some preconceived plan or test, or simply the culmination of events in preparation for the times we live in, I do not know. Only time can answer this and many other questions connected with Peekskill.
My own personal participation was something of an accident initially, although far from an accident as the series of events around the incident unfolded. It is not often the good fortune or fate of a writer to be so closely involved with events which must be written about. When it does happen, if the writer is a trained observer, the possibility of good prose description does exist, and this can be most valuable. Because I believe this, I offer this account of the eight days of Peekskill. I do not, however, put it forth either as a social study of the incident or as a complete factual itemization. For the most part, I tell only what happened immediately around me-what I saw with my own eyes. Where I go beyond that, I do so for the sake of continuity in dramatic terms, and where I draw conclusions, they are my own conclusions, based for the most part on my own experience.
I would like to state that I am most interested in presenting a truthful picture again, within the limits of my observation and information. We live in times when any statement of the left is greeted with suspicion if not with outright condemnation by the forces of the right; and since the bulk of the sources of public information are firmly in the hands of American reaction, it can hardly be expected that this account will be welcomed by them as an objective statement of what happened at Peekskill. As a matter of fact, I have never pretended to any sort of Olympian objectivity. My position, for many years, has been a partisan one, and I have never made any secret of that. At Peekskill, I could hardly be objective; objectivity is not for those who are fighting for their lives. I was partisan then; I am still partisan.
Yet I think that partisanship does not hinder, but rather helps toward the truth. An enormous body of written matter already exists on the Peekskill Affair; this is available to scholars, and it is not my intention to present a collation of this material. It is my intention to tell the story as I saw it.
In answer to those who may wonder why I waited so long before sitting down to this job, I can only answer that some degree of perspective is necessary to a coherent account of such a matter as this. Also, I was occupied with other writing tasks, and then interrupted by the Federal Government, which decided that I had to serve a three month prison sentence-as a lesson and a warning to others who might consider a police state an intolerable condition of things.
It was while I was in prison that I heard that the Westchester County Grand Jury, which had been sitting on the Peekskill case for many months, had finally brought in two indictments; and I recall tense days of waiting to hear whether-as it had been rumored -Paul Robeson and I would be the subject of these indictments. When I learned that we would not, I was both relieved and puzzled, for frameup, or, as the lawyers call it, entrapment, had been the pattern of this Peekskill business from beginning to end. At the same time, I do not delude myself into thinking that the last chapter to the Peekskill Affair has been written.