De Toledano,









M. Wesley




INT: Great. This is roll 10115, continuation of interview with Paul Robeson. So would you just be able to give us the epilogue of the Pfeffer story and just very succinctly say how as iin the USA, as in Moscow, he was this intouchable kind of figure and he can take this unique stance. So, sort of Pfeffer really.

PR: There is an epilogue to the Pfeffer story. First it illustrates how popular dad was in the Soviet Union, in a sense he was so popular, he was untouchable by the authorities there, as up to that time, 1949, he was untouchable in America, because he was popular, so he was this bridge between the two cultures. What happened to Pfeffer is that he and his colleagues, who had been arrested, survived for three more years. They were finally executed just before the Doctors' Plot in 1952 and one of the reasons that they did survive is that dad followed up by writing a letter direct to Stalin, through diplomatic channels, along with Howard Fast, the famous left-wing writer here and Fredericolio Curie, who was the famous French physicist and a Communist. So it was one of the factors at least which deterred their execution for some time. It's also noteworthy that dad certainly took a risk in that it's inconceivable to me that the release of Pfeffer to come see him was ordered by anybody other than Stalin himself, even the head of the Secret Police, Ben Berria would never have dared to do that without checking with quote the boss. So, but there was an epilogue for dad too. The main thing that confronted him when he got back to the United States was the so-called statement of his at the Paris Peace Conference, which when he came back, was on everybody's lips, on every radio broadcast and so on. So he had to come back, in effect, and stand trial before the nation as a traitor to the nation so to speak. He chose a very special ground to fight on and I remember being at this meeting when his advisers and several very radical folks here, who were intimidated by this campaign and urged him, well why don't you just say [laughs] you were misquoted and read what's from the record of the congress. And there was a verbatim record, plus it was filmed and recorded, so why don't you just say, look this is what I said, I didn't say this. And he said, it's too late, that by now the statement which went something like, it was unthinkable that American Negroes could go to war against the Soviet Union on behalf of the United States that has oppressed them for generations, so he said, there's no way that this'll be on anything but page thirty eight of The Times or something and it's too late. So I'm going to do something different. And there was this hush at the meeting. And he said, well I've rewritten the AP dispatch and I'm now simply going to say that, personally that is, in my personal view, it is unthinkable that American Negroes could go to war, not will, but could, I'm not going to speak for them, could go to war against the Soviet Union that has raised our people to full human dignity in one generation, for those who have oppressed us for generations. So there was this dead silence and everybody said, gee, Paul, maybe you shouldn't do that. And he said, no, they've raised the question of whether blacks will fight in an aggressive war against the Soviet Union, I might as well engage 'em on that ground and say I don't think they should. And he went right at 'em. He said, besides, the other thing he told me, I remember very vividly he said I could have stayed in the Soviet Union and been safe. I have a sense that I may not live out the year, that the authorities here mean to blow me away. The only chance... and my place is here with my people, so I'm not going to be an exile any more, but under these circumstances, the only good chance of physical survival is an offence. If I start ducking around, there's going to be some kind of accident and I'm going to be gone, so I might as well go right at 'em and take my chances. Long story short, he turned out to be right, on both counts, because he also told me, although he didn't identify the person, he had this way when he didn't want to tell you explicitly, of giving you enough hints so that you could figure it out, but he wouldn't confirm it, so he said this black lea

INT: OK. Well, let's go straight on and talk about Peekskill in that case. Could you very briefly summarise what happened in the August concert or the attempted August concert and then continue on the September concert, tell me what you saw and what your father felt really, if it's possible.

PR: The Peekskill concert was kind of a watershed in many ways, because it happened in a context. In the midst of dad's travails, assault on him, my wife and I got married. Matter of fact we got married three days after his return from Moscow, in the midst of all this controversy, and our pictures were on every newspaper front page, inter-racial marriage and the way they described my wife as well, white girl from Queens, meaning Jewish, being... Forest Hills, all right, the Jewish... So there was this whole idea of black man, Jewish woman, inter-racial marriage, go get 'em. In other words, the way the press played it, it made us sitting ducks for every bigot in the country and that really, I've never seen my father so angry at the press, because OK, they go after him, but in fact you're setting up my son and daughter in law. So what that did, however, was make clear that the whole family was at risk, in other words they were telling him not just you Robeson, but [laughs] there's your wife, you got a son, you got a daughter in law, think about it. We can go after them too. So I remember we had a family conference, you know, what do we do and we all said, you know, do what you have to do to take care of ourselves. Mother too, who was a very strong woman and she was as angry as dad was at the, you know, they come after you [laughs] they'll have to take me too. And so we, as a family, it really brought us together and somehow it wasn't as scary that way. I mean, looking back, it's in a sense more frightening than it seemed then. We went on with our lives and interestingly enough, this was in June, in August when Peekskill happened, things had been going fairly normally, in the sense we were I guess lulled to incaution almost. Dad was going around without any bodyguards, I mean he couldn't abide 'em anyway, so he said, oh, I'll move around, not going to be a problem. So there was this annual concert for a civil rights benefit that dad had been giving three years in a row at Peekskill and this year was the fourth year. Then it was scheduled normally, nobody thought of any danger. My wife and I were going to come down from a summer camp where we were working, we were going to drive down and dad got on the train with his accompanist, no bodyguards, no nothing, took the train up to Peekskill and got off at the Peekskill station and fortunately was headed off by a friend, who'd driven down to the station, had heard on the radio that a riot was brewing at the concert site. And dad was arguing, well no, there's going to be a concert, I'll go there to sing, what do you mean a riot? He didn't believe it. So fortunately what happened was the friend called some other friends, there was a couple of cars, and a woman with two children went in the front car and as they approached the concert area, cars were backed up in all directions and on the radio there was a riot going on. People who tried to come to the concert were assaulted, the chairs, the people down in the concert area were attacked, the chairs and the stage were burnt, set fire to and there were all kinds of slogans, lynch Robeson and as dad was about to argue, well maybe we should drive closer, a large cross burned on... it was started burning on a hill and turns out that they hung dad in effigy from a tree right in front of the concert, so had he gone there, they would have lynched him. So they turned around and they took dad back and the only reason I'm sitting here is that my wife wasn't feeling well, she was ill, so at the last moment, we decided not to go. The car of friends in which we were going to go, in their car, fortunately they were all white, 'cos they were caught in the middle of the mob and they were going down looking in the cars to catch anybody who was black. Guy would be going on, no blinkety blank, n-blank-ers in this car, try the next one. An inter-racial couple driving from some other place, just driving through, happ