Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

“The Peekskill Riots” premieres at the Field Library

Local documentarian, Jon Scott Bennett, will debut episode 1 of a 5-part series on The Peekskill Riots this Saturday

It was a hot, humid, sticky typical New York summer night on the evening of August 27 and then again on September 4, 1949. On those two evenings, just about 2.3 miles outside of the borders of Peekskill where Oregon Road, Westbrook Drive and Red Mills Road currently meet at a circle roundabout in Cortlandt, and what native Peekskillians refer to as the Hollowbrook Drive-In, a fierce angry crowd waited for the black singer and political activist Paul Robeson. The hostile crowd lined up and down the road waving American flags, singing patriotic songs, and  holding signs proclaiming “Wake Up America, Peekskill Did.”

It was in this location where violence erupted at not one, but two concerts headlined by Paul Robeson. Residents of Peekskill, and other nearby towns, galvanized by racist and anti-Semitic sentiments and disdain for Robeson’s left-wing views and campaign for civil rights, started two riots that resulted in hundreds of injuries, made national news, and unofficially marked the beginning of the McCarthy/anti-communist era, which ultimately would nearly erase Robeson from the public consciousness. In the years that would follow, the City of Peekskill would embrace a more progressive and inclusive identity – but the wounds left behind, often intentionally buried and forgotten, would never be fully healed, or even recognized.

The Peekskill Riots, by documentarian Jon Scott Bennett, explores the events leading up to the 1949 riots, the people involved, the riots themselves, and the aftermath in a five-episode docu-series. Episode One, will introduce the story with a focus on the concerts’ headlining performer, Paul Robeson. Episode One, can be viewed in its entirety on Youtube and via But if you want the chance to meet Jon Scott Bennett in person, hear from the documentarian himself and ask questions, then head on over to the Field Library this Saturday, March 30 at 2:00 pm. The event is free and registration is not necessary. For more information contact Sarah Scott, local history librarian, with any questions at [email protected] or (914) 737-4390. 

John Scott Bennett

Documentarian Jon Scott Bennett has gained recognition for his previous films focusing on local history, including The Pound Ridge Massacre and The Leatherman: An American Vagabond. Jon, who recently earned a Bachelor of Arts in history, shares his passion for research and storytelling through documentary film.

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About the Contributor
As a Peekskill native, Dave is thrilled to be working with the Peekskill Herald showcasing featured calendar events. A 1999 graduate of PHS, he remembers reading and enjoying the original weekly print edition of the Peekskill Herald every Thursday. He especially liked the political stories, local features and sports coverage when it was written by Peekskill Runner columnist Jack Burns who always managed to weave history into the running times. An avid hiker, he enjoys exploring the local trails as well as the concrete ones in his job as a conductor for Metro North Railroad. He’s a former teacher and co-founder of the Friends of the Peekskill Dog Park, where he frequently can be found with his Koda. He’s happy to be part of the Herald’s growth as the source of local news for Peekskill and looks forward to highlighting a few of many of the events and happenings in Peekskill and the surrounding communities. Reach Dave at [email protected]