Peter Applebome's "Our Towns" column on the front page of Thursday's "New York" section, "Giving Back Stature Stolen In Red Scare," celebrated the black actor, singer, and unrepentant Stalinist Paul Robeson.
Applebome interviewed someone who tried to attend a Robeson concert in 1949 in Peekskill, N.Y., a concert that triggered the anti-Communist Peekskill Riots.
It was long ago, the end of summer in 1949. She was 13. But for Joan Landzberg, the memories will never go away.
Not that Aug. 27, when a scheduled concert by the singer Paul Robeson was canceled after a terrifying attack by dozens of men swinging clubs and folding chairs, making bonfires out of sheet music. Not the night of Sept. 4, when she left the rescheduled concert lying flat on the bed of a pickup, other frightened children lying on top of her, as mobs threw bricks and rocks. These events became infamous as the Peekskill Riots.
Applebome lauded Robeson's athletic and musical talent in three paragraphs, then called him "a pioneering and uncompromising human rights advocate." By contrast, Applebome dealt with Robeson's support for Josef Stalin's totalitarian reign in a single sentence:
He became a pioneering and uncompromising human rights advocate. He spoke out against segregation decades before the civil rights movement began, and was a fierce opponent of colonialism when that was barely an issue.
He also became an enthusiastic, unflagging admirer of the Soviet Union, something he never renounced or backed away from, even in the face of Stalin's atrocities. He embraced socialism, not capitalism, as the future. He was blacklisted, had his passport revoked, and, in many ways, was written out of the history books. It was those ties, no doubt exacerbated by his race, that brought on the mobs and soon the cancellations of dozens of concerts elsewhere and the destruction of his career.
What kind of "uncompromising human rights advocate" would support a mass murdering dictator like Josef Stalin? Applebome doesn't address the chasm, and neither does the story's text box: "A concert will celebrate Paul Robeson, a giant of the civil rights movement."
Some on the left are much harder on Robeson than the Times. As Barry Finger recounted in the socialist magazine New Politics:
Robeson greeted the Soviet Constitution imposed on the Soviet people in 1936 on the eve of the great purge trials as "an expression of democracy, broader in scope and loftier in principle than ever before expressed. Of these show trials, Robeson was quoted as saying that the USSR had dealt properly in the trial of the "counterrevolutionaries... they ought to destroy anybody who seeks to harm that great country."
By contrast, the Times has previously praised Robeson as a "celebrated defender of civil rights" andvirtually ignoredhis support for Stalin.