SNCC holds a reunion, from young and black to old and gray. Ron Radosh writes :

These days, there is nothing old civil rights activists like to do better than hold reunions, where like World War II veterans, they trade war stories, recall the “good fight,” and praise themselves for leading the struggle which eventually led to the election of America’s first African-America President.

It should be no surprise then to find SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) activists “now averaging 65 years of age” engaging at such nostalgia at their recent reunion in Raleigh, North Carolina.


There was some attempt to insist on the relevance of SNCC today. Eric Holder “told the SNCC veterans, ‘There is a straight line from those lunch counter sit-ins to the Oval Office today.’ The purpose of the event was not simply to reminisce, but to ‘rekindle the spirit of 1960 and build on SNCC’s achievements,’ Holder added. ‘There is still marching to be done.’”

But mostly it was reminiscence and self-congratulation, of a kind so old, and hackneyed, and past its sell-by date, that, reading about it, I began to remember—of all things—Allen Ginsberg’s 1958 poem “ To Aunt Rose ”:

Aunt Rose—now—might I see you

with your thin face and buck tooth smile and pain

                     of rheumatism—and a long black heavy shoe

                            for your bony left leg

   limping down the long hall in Newark on the running carpet

                     past the black grand piano   

                            in the day room

                                    where the parties were

             and I sang Spanish loyalist songs   

                     in a high squeaky voice

                            (hysterical) the committee listening

                     while you limped around the room

                            collected the money—

   Aunt Honey, Uncle Sam, a stranger with a cloth arm

                     in his pocket

                        and huge young bald head

                           of Abraham Lincoln Brigade


In some ways, of course, it’s a straightforward example of the Ubi Sunt genre of poem: Where are the snows of yesteryear? And, in some ways, “To Aunt Rose” is part of the mockery, then emerging, of the old Stalinist left by what would come to be called the New Left. But it ends:

last time I saw you was the hospital

             pale skull protruding under ashen skin   

                     blue veined unconscious girl   

                           in an oxygen tent

             the war in Spain has ended long ago   

                           Aunt Rose


And whatever one thinks of Allen Ginsberg as a poet and a man— Norman Podhoretz wrote a personalized and fascinating and damning analysis back in 1997—that’s a pretty good line, which we ought to remember for a variety of occasions in which we find ourselves refusing to let go of the past lest we not matter in the present: the war in Spain has ended long ago, / Aunt Rose.

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