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Barbara Kopple Collection on the Peekskill Riots

Call Number



1925-1999, inclusive
; 1949-1981, bulk


Kopple, Barbara
Stanley, Jeffrey (Role: Donor)


11.75 Linear Feet in 9 record cartons, 3 manuscript boxes, 1 photograph box, and 1 oversize flat box

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


Assembled by filmmaker Barbara Kopple in preparation for two feature-length films, the collection documents two Paul Robeson concerts in August and September of 1949 to benefit the Civil Rights Congress and the anti-Communist/anti-radical riots by civilians that took place in reaction to the concerts (preventing the first one from actually taking place). The collection includes administrative files related to the film projects; scripts; subject files, clippings and correspondence; and a small number of artifacts and ephemera related to the riots.

Historical Note

In July 1949, the Harlem chapter of the Civil Rights Congress announced that Paul Robeson would headline a benefit concert for the organization in Lakeland Acres, near Peekskill, New York. Local organizations, including the Junior Chamber of Commerce, and the local newspaper, The Peekskill Evening Star, condemned the concert as Communist-inspired and encouraged demonstrations to stop it. The resulting local opposition grew out of potent elements of anti-Communist, anti-black and anti-Semitic sentiment present in the post-World War II United States.

On August 27th, the day the concert was scheduled to take place, a mob of locals attacked arriving concertgoers with billy clubs, brass knuckles and rocks, overturning cars and burning political handouts and pamphlets. Local police stood by, and intervened only after thirteen people were seriously injured. As a result, Robeson never made it to the concert site, and the concert never took place.

Deeply angered by this incident, the Civil Rights Congress held a large public meeting at Harlem's Golden Gate Ballroom and declared that the concert would be rescheduled for September 4th.

Located on the grounds of the Hollow Brook Golf Course in Cortlandt Manor, this concert drew twenty thousand people. Security was provided by trade unionists, including members of District Council 65, and Robeson and other musicians, including Pete Seeger, were able to perform. Once the concert ended, however, attendees were forced to run a gauntlet of veterans and outside agitators who threw rocks through the windshields of their cars and buses. At least 140 people were injured and numerous vehicles were severely damaged.

Widespread outrage ensued as a result of this violence, and over three hundred people went to Albany to meet with Governor Thomas E. Dewey. Governor Dewey would not give them a hearing, and instead blamed the events on the provocation of "communist groups." A $2 million civil suit was filed by Robeson and twenty-six other plaintiffs against Westchester County and two veterans' groups. The case was dismissed after three years of litigation.

This collection of material related to the Peekskill Riots was created by Barbara Kopple, a director known for films such as Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), American Dream (1990) and Shut Up & Sing (2006), in connection with two proposed film projects on the Peekskill Riots. In 1979 Koppel began, in conjunction with screenwriter Loring Mandel, to develop a feature-length drama, tentatively titled "Peekskill," and partially funded by Twentieth Century Fox. The bulk of the research collection seems to have been created at this time. This project appears to have been abandoned sometime after 1980 as a result of contract disputes with Mandel and lack of funding.

In 1983, Kopple contracted with Stanley "Bucky" Buchtal and Buckeye Entertainment to develop a second film based on the Peekskill Riots. They acquired a script titled "Joe Glory," written by Alfred Slote. In 1997 Jeffrey Stanley was hired to rewrite the screenplay which was completed in 1998. In 1998 Stanley subsequently wrote a preview of the Paul Robeson Centennial Retrospective at the Film Forum for Time Out New York magazine which also mentions the Joe Glory script and Kopple. It appears that this project was also abandoned.


American Civil Liberties Union. Violence in Peekskill: A Report of the Violations of Civil Liberties at Two Paul Robeson Concerts Near Peekskill, N.Y., August 27th and September 4th, 1949. New York: ACLU, 1949.Fast, Howard. Peekskill, USA: Inside the Infamous 1949 Riots. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2006.The Robeson Concerts: Peekskill, NY 1949. Dir. Abby Luby. Videocassette. ORB Total Media, 1998.Walwick, Joseph. The Peekskill, New York, Anti-Communist Riots of 1949. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.


Organized into seven series:

I. Administrative Files

II. Scripts

III. Subject Files and Clippings

IV. Artifacts, Ephemera and Oversize Clippings

V. Subjects Files, Individuals

VI. Photographs

VII. 2014 Accretion

Arranged alphabetically within each series, with the exception of Series VII, which has not been arranged by an archivist.

Scope and Contents

A portion of the research material, including scholarly articles and notes on primary sources, was collected between 1970 and 1973 by Malcolm Call, then a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts, in preparation for his dissertation proposal, "The Cold War at Home: Peekskill, NY, 1949." This material was apparently later acquired by Kopple and integrated into her research collection. Kopple's own notes, including lists of and material provided by potential interviews are also included.

Of particular significance are original records from the office of George Fanelli, the Westchester County District Attorney who was charged with investigating the riots. Original reports and correspondence from the New York State Police and the Westchester County Sherriff's Office are also noteworthy. The collection also contains a substantial number of photographs of the concerts, riots, and police response.

Also included are letters to the editor of the Peekskill Evening Star, which had condemned the Robeson concerts and called for counter-demonstrations. From correspondents spread across the United States, these letters express a range of sentiments regarding the Robeson concert and the ensuing violence, and supply a window into citizens' views of Communism, race and other social issues in post-World War II America.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive has no information about copyright ownership for this collection and is not authorized to grant permission to publish or reproduce materials from it. Materials in this collection, which were created in 1925-1999, are expected to enter the public domain in 2119.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Barbara Kopple Collection on the Peekskill Riots; TAM 307; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Barbara Kopple Collection on the Peekskill Riots was given to the Tamiment Library at New York University by Barbara Kopple in April 2004. A final version of "Joe Glory" and an article on Paul Robeson's legacy were donated by Jeffrey Stanley in 2009. Additional materials from this collection were found in the repository in 2014 and incorporated into the record as a separate series. The accession numbers associated with this collection are 2004.024, 2004.025, NPA.2006.049, and 2014.079

Related Archival Materials

Barbara Kopple: Peekskill Riots Oral History Collection (Oral History 002.4)

The Daily Worker and the Daily World Photographs Collection (PHOTOS 223)

Collection processed by

Hillel Arnold, Margaret Fraser

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:28:53 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English.

Processing Information

Photographs were separated from this collection during initial processing and were established as a separate collection, the Barbara Koppe: Peekskill Riots Photographs (PHOTOS 228). In 2013, the photograph collection was reincorporated into the Barbara Kopple: Peekskill Riots Collection (TAM 307). Photographs were cleaned and humidified to reverse curling. Tears in large photograph prints were mended. Photographic prints were rehoused in mylar and negatives were rehoused in paper sleeves to accomodate browsing and handling. In 2014, six folders of materials from this collection were found in the repository; these were incorporated into the collection as a separate series at the end of the collection (Box 14), but were otherwise not arranged.


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012