Performing History: Remembering Paul Robeson and the Peekskill Riots through Tayo Aluko’s Call Mr. Robeson07/18/2016
In 1949 Paul Robeson (with support from Pete Seeger, Woodie Guthrie, Howard Fast, and others) attempted to and then successfully held a civil and workers’ rights concert in Peekskill, New York. Marring these performances, however, were protests that turned progressively violent. These violent protests have come to be known as the Peekskill Riots and serve as a major milestone in the nation’s history surrounding protest, music, politics, and Paul Robeson. This paper reflects on this relationship, particularly how it is being remembered today. Through field research, including participant observation, interviews, landscape analysis, and primary and secondary archival research, I demonstrate how British-Nigerian writer, singer, actor, activist, and architect Tayo Aluko “performs history” through his musical Call Mr. Robeson. This includes how Paul Robeson and the Peekskill Riots are remembered through performance and how the continued performances place the identity and history of Peekskill in a state of becoming. This is also a case study more broadly for how social movements are influenced, fueled, and remembered through performance.