- A Memoir of the New Left: The Political Autobiography of Charles A. Haynie
Charles A. Haynie (1935-2001) was trained as a mathematician at Cornell University in the early 1960s. Failing to complete his dissertation, he moved from job to job for several years before landing at SUNY Buffalo, where he taught math for thirty years as a low-paid instructor on year-to-year contracts. He died of cancer at the age of sixty-six. One might assume from [End Page 87] his professional profile that Haynie's life was honorable but one of unrealized potential and frustrated dreams, that of a man of considerable academic ambition who, for whatever reasons, never got where he set out to go.
Such an assumption would be wrong. For Haynie, while he endured periods of personal turmoil, self-doubt, and considerable disappointment, did so not in the pursuit of academic tenure but in service to social revolution. His "movement" life, captured here in a series of vignettes covering about thirty years, reflects the crooked line he traversed through resistance struggles involving disarmament, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, and the countercultural rebellions by often discouraged activists like himself in the 1970s. Haynie's purpose was to tell the story of 1960s radicalism from the perspective of "what it was like to be involved in these movements at the local level where the real creativity took place … that vital movements are only created at the grassroots level by small groups of people who feel, perhaps arrogantly, that if they don't do something, nothing will happen, and some major social evil will continue to fester" (2).
Born to white upper-class privilege in New York City, Haynie began to question the arrangements of de facto segregation at twelve or thirteen, when he was struck by the material and social distances between his family and that of their black maid. Inspired by a Jewish math teacher who challenged the anti-Semitic pronouncements of his parents, Haynie entered Cornell University in 1959. At Cornell he matriculated with the children of Old Left radicals, working-class activists, and a newly formed Socialist Study Group organized in part to combat anti-communist hysteria. He began to ask questions about the imperial framework of American and Soviet hegemony at the peak of the Cold War and, grounded in a deep faith in rational discourse that he attributed to his math training, became deeply immersed in the Civil Rights Movement.
Haynie participated in the second wave of Freedom Rides to Jackson, Mississippi, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, in the spring of 1961. In the summers of 1963 and 1964, Haynie and his first wife were encouraged by Anne Braden of the Southern Conference Education Fund to reenergize a suspended SNCC (Southern Non-violent Coordinating Committee) voting rights campaign in Fayette County, Tennessee. His account of this period is the most poignant and educational section of the memoir. His belief in the elemental restructuring of American racial, economic, and imperial institutions is both strengthened and softened in Tennessee by his growing appreciation for the dignity and courage of the local people with whom he worked. He reveals a profound willingness to investigate his [End Page 88] own historical participation in the structures of oppression, and arrives at a pivotal point in his maturation as a radical. He developed a distaste for attempts by some outside white reformers who made a show of trying to dress and talk like poor sharecroppers which, ironically, engendered in Haynie a determination to respect and find true value in each person's experience. "We are who we are," says Haynie. For privileged whites to deny the "huge gap between our lives and those of the sharecroppers," he concluded, was simply a futile attempt to "shed part of one's heritage, one's background." Such pretense revealed inauthentic people, who "are too weak and vulnerable to be of any help to the movement" (56).
His willingness to confront not only...