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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

"Here I Stand" Program to Celebrate the Legacy of Paul Robeson coming for 75th anniversary of the Peekskill Riots




This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Peekskill Riots, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary, the Living Artist Society will present a program entitled “Here I Stand” after the seminal book of the same title written by Paul Robeson. There will be two performances featuring a Grammy Award-winning performer: a fundraising Gala on Thursday, September 12, 2024 and a Community Concert on Sunday, September 15, 2024, at 3:00 pm at the Paramount Hudson Valley Theater, located at 1008 Brown Street in Peekskill, NY. The program will shed light on the riots and celebrate Paul Robeson’s legacy as an iconic artist and advocate for civil rights.


“On this 75th anniversary of the Peekskill Riots, we will commemorate this national history and share important memories of our local community," said Wendy Talio, Founder of the Living Artist Society and Event Chair. “We’re very honored that Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone Mark S. Doss will be joining us in this mission with a performance that will take attendees on a journey through Robeson’s life with his repertoire and that is fitting of Robeson’s enduring legacy as one of the most influential artists and advocates of social justice in his era.”


Paul Robeson was one of the most beloved artists of the 20th century and a figure of international importance in civil rights history. In 1949, Robeson came to sing for peace at an outdoor concert just outside Peekskill to benefit the Harlem chapter of the Civil Rights Congress. Despite the threat of violence, Robeson and some 20,000 concertgoers showed up in solidarity. The aftermath of this concert would go down in history as the Peekskill Riots, a pivotal moment in our history, where violence was ignited by racism, antisemitism, and a deeply rooted distrust, leaving hundreds of people seriously injured, and setting the stage for what would become the civil rights movement.


On August 27, 1949, a planned (but postponed) concert by Robeson at Lakeland Acres in Peekskill, NY (now Hollow Brook Golf Club in Cortlandt Manor) was met with a violent mob that swelled to many hundreds. Undeterred, Robeson rescheduled the concert on near what is now Blue Jay Estates in Cortlandt Manor. The mob came again equipped for violence and attacked the estimated 20,000 concertgoers as they left the grounds. Hundreds were seriously injured.


Many of the concert organizers and attendees were residents of left-wing summer colonies then popular in Northern Westchester and Putnam Valley. The start of the Cold War had elevated tensions between them and other area residents.

Within a few days after the concert, hundreds of editorials and letters appeared in newspapers across the nation and abroad by prominent individuals, organizations, trade unions, churches and others. They condemned the attacks and the failure of the police to protect the concert-goers. Despite condemnation from progressives and civil rights activists, the mainstream press and local officials overwhelmingly blamed Robeson and his fans for "provoking" the violence.


The Peekskill Riots marked the beginning of a character assassination. In 1950, the U.S. State Department revoked Robeson’s passport, severely restricting his ability to travel internationally for performances and activism. This action was part of broader efforts to silence Robeson and other activists during the McCarthy era, characterized by intense anti-communist sentiment and repression of leftist voices.


As a result of losing his passport, Robeson's career suffered significantly. He was unable to perform in many countries where he had previously been celebrated, cutting off a crucial source of income and platform for his activism. Despite these challenges, Robeson continued to advocate for civil rights and social justice within the United States until his health declined in later years.


This 75th Anniversary presentation of "Here I Stand" serves as the inaugural event launching the Robeson-in-Peekskill foundation.


This celebration will consist of one performance and two events, as attendees will be transported through history with a performance by Mark S. Doss, a Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone, who will take everyone on a journey through Robeson’s repertoire performed with principals of Pegasus: The Orchestra led by artistic director and principal conductor, Karen Hakobyan from piano. Aaron Mair, a recognized leader in the national movement for environmental justice, will host the performance and provide the historical backdrop with eyewitness accounts and other personal stories. The original “Hollowbrook Drive-in Theatre” sign, autographed by Pete Seeger and owned by Thom Wolke, will be displayed at both performances; it is on permanent loan to the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame Museum at the Boch Center in Boston, MA, and was also featured on Antiques Roadshow. In addition, visuals from local historical sources will round out the experience. Proceeds from the fundraising Gala will be used to establish the Robeson-in-Peekskill Foundation, which will promote positive change in our communities through the work of artists.


“I am honored to perform at this year’s events and am excited to celebrate the life and legacy of Paul Robeson through his music,” said Mark S. Doss. “I have been awestruck on more than one occasion after hearing online commentary of Robeson’s where he mentions his rationale for placing certain songs in a particular order, where he said, “I put this song here, because it belongs there”; in my own rendition of Ol’ Man River I put Paul’s name at the end, because it belongs there!”


To purchase tickets for the fundraiser Gala and learn more about the available sponsorship opportunities or donate, please visit https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/living-artist-society/campaigns/6283. To purchase tickets to the Community Concert, please visit https://paramounthudsonvalley.com/events/here-i-stand-paul-robeson-a-life-and-legacy-in-word-and-song/.




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