This Day in Jewish History 1949: KKK Attacks Jews at Music Concert, Police Shrug

Ku Klux Klan and others attack concertgoers in Peekskill, N.Y. Despite the evidence of police collusion with the Klan, the state refused to investigate the violence.

Members of the Ku Klux Klan and others attacked concertgoers, badly injuring 13 of them.AP

On this day in 1949, concertgoers leaving an open-air performance by such musicians as Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, in the New York suburb of Peekskill, found themselves attacked by an anti-Communist, anti-Semitic and anti-black crowd, while local police stood to the side.

The concert, at the Hollow Brook Country Club, had originally been scheduled for August 27, but that event was halted when members of the Ku Klux Klan and others attacked members of the audience, badly injuring 13 of them.

Opposition to the show drew strength from the fact that it was a benefit performance for the Communist Party-affiliated Civil Rights Congress, and that many of the artists were identified with other left-wing causes. Robeson was a particular lightning rod not only because he was black, but also for his sympathy for the Soviet Union and outspoken criticism of the United States. Additionally, in summertime, Peekskill, in Westchester County, attracted a large number of Jewish residents from New York, whose presence antagonized the working-class permanent residents of the town.

One person present at the September 4 concert estimated that 80 percent of the 25,000 people in attendance were Jewish.

When the show, which included renditions of civil rights anthems and songs made popular during the Spanish Civil War, ended, police routed departing cars and buses onto a steep road through the Westchester woods. There they were greeted by a crowd waiting to throw rocks at them; more than 140 people were injured, and many vehicles overturned.

Despite the evidence of police collusion with the Klan, the state refused to investigate the violence, and the press generally accused the concertgoers of provoking the riots. In the wake of the events, and the general public opprobrium for Robeson, the singer had some 80 scheduled concerts canceled.