SEPTEMBER 3, 1949
HYDE PARK, Friday—A great deal of feeling has been aroused by the riots that took place in Peekskill, New York, at a meeting sponsored by the Civil Liberties Union. I, myself, cannot understand why anyone goes to a meeting at which Paul Robeson is going to speak unless they are in sympathy with what he is going to say, since by this time everyone must be familiar with his thinking. I have been told that what I once experienced, namely, seeing him turn his concert into a medium for Communist propaganda, is his constant practice, so whoever goes to hear him must know what to expect. They might well want to hear him sing, in spite of knowing that he would sing certain songs that they might not like, or at some point, talk in a way with which they might not agree. If so, in this country, it is their privilege to go to hear him and leave. I think if we care for the preservation of our liberties we must allow all people whether we disagree with them or not, to hold meetings and express their views unmolested as long as they do not advocate the overthrow of our Government by force.
It seems to me that peaceful picketing of such a meeting is also an unwise gesture. I can well understand why veterans want to show their displeasure, but I think there are other ways of doing it. They can hold a meeting and see to it that their speakers are as well reported as those at any other meeting. They can see that the press carries refutation of whatever arguments are given at any meeting with which they disagree, but I do not think they need fear that the average American is an easy prey to the Paul Robeson type of propaganda.
I believe the average American should realize that rioting and lawlessness even when we can prove that they were, as some people are trying to prove in this case, incited by some Communists, are still not good propaganda for democracy in the world.
We, in the United States, should, I think, make it very clear that we disagree with and disapprove of many views of Paul Robeson, but it is well also for us to remember that Paul Robeson left this country and took his family to the USSR until the coming of the war. He wanted to find something he did not find here. He was a brilliant law student and could not find a job in any good New York firm staffed for the most part by men and women of the white race. In other words, he could not be a lawyer, so he became a singer—a gain for art—but perhaps there was some bitterness in his heart, brought about by the fact that there was no equality of opportunity for educated men of his race. He did not want his boy to have the same experiences. Others might feel the same way. In the USSR he was recognized as an educated man, as an artist and as an equal. We disapprove of his speeches, but we must also understand him and above all other things, we must be jealous to preserve the liberties that are inherent in true democracy.