The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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Profile: Stephen Szego

Stephen Szego was a participant or observer in the following events:

Hundreds of volunteers, mostly union members, form a “human wall” to defend the concert and its audience from the mob.Hundreds of volunteers, mostly union members, form a “human wall” to defend the concert and its audience from the mob. [Source: Howard Fast]Left-wing activists make a second attempt at holding a concert outside of Peekskill, New York, featuring African-American singer and activist Paul Robeson. After the first one was disrupted by angry mobs (see August 27, 1949), organizers plan for a much more strongly defended second event (see August 28-30, 1949). The venue for the first concert is heavily damaged by the mob’s depredations, so a German-American landowner named Stephen Szego, who escaped Hitler’s Germany years before, agrees to let the concert take place at the now-abandoned Hollow Brook Country Club ground. (Activist and novelist Howard Fast, who helps organize the event and documents it, will later note that Szego will suffer an attempt to burn down his house and has bullets fired through his walls as a result of his generosity.) The defense, organized by dozens of trade union workers, is designed to be unique, Fast will write: “a defense without weapons, a defense, if possible, without a blow being struck, a defense which would achieve its purpose through the highest type of discipline and restraint.” As the opening of the concert approaches, some 25,000 people—far more than the organizers had anticipated—begin streaming into the country club’s grounds; outside the grounds, a large mob begins to grow. In addition, a large and well-armed police contingent is on hand. According to Fast, the opening salvo of rock-throwing from the mob is ordered by the police: “Backed by hundreds of laughing cops, the American Legion heroes lined the road and heaved rocks at our defense line.” The violence escalates when several carloads of latecomers, all African-Americans, are attacked by the mob, pulled out of their cars, and beaten. An apparent assassination attempt against Robeson is thwarted when union workers flush two mob members from what is apparently a sniper’s nest; both are found with high-powered rifles. When Robeson takes the stage to sing, 15 union workers surround him, providing a “human wall,” in Fast’s words, to defend him from any possible sniper’s bullet. Robeson, folk singer Pete Seeger, and other musicians are able to play successfully, even though a police helicopter hovers over the sound truck, apparently trying to drown out the music with the sound of its rotors. Seeger later recalls: “We heard about 150 people standing around the gate shout things like ‘Go back to Russia! K_kes! N_gger-lovers!’ It was a typical KKK crowd, without bedsheets.” (Fast 1951; Williams 3/1976; Courtney 9/5/1982; National Public Radio 9/5/1999) Concertgoers are attacked, beaten, and pelted with rocks by the mob as they attempt to leave the grounds (see September 4, 1949, and After).


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