The Left of Sunnyside:
a community of good souls
by Nora (Straus) Albert
On the short trip from Manhattan to Sunnyside on the #15 bus I remember the intoxicating smell of bread baking at the Wonder Bread factory and the giant stapler opening and closing at the Swingline Staple Factory. The transition from the excitement of “the city” to the peace and quiet of Sunnyside was delightful. Manhattan was a teenager’s paradise! Sunnyside felt safe.
Although the neighborhood was lovely, the best part of growing up in Sunnyside – like similar groups in other parts of NYC - was being part of a community of people with a strong sense of fellowship, common interests and shared values. The tenets of my upbringing were simple: racism is wrong, war is not the answer, nuclear bombs should be banned, and all workers deserve a living wage and safe environment. There seemed to be no rational argument to compete with these views and to this day those values mirror my own.
Politics was not the only thing that defined the left of the fifties and sixties. Our community also embraced and appreciated the cultures of the world through art, song, dance and food. I vividly recall lots of singing and folk dancing mostly at summer camps like Woodland and Higley Hill. Some of the songs we sang, like “This is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome” captured our optimistic world-view while others, like “Miner’s Life” expressed the plight of working people, immigrants and others who contributed so much to our country. I remember going to art exhibits especially “The Family of Man” at the MOMA an exhibit of photos of people around the world.
When I was contacted about this project I had already been planning to write a letter to my growing granddaughters to help them understand the American left and what it meant that my father was fired from Queens College for being a Communist during the McCarthy era. I didn’t want them to grow up thinking that modern so-called communist nations such as China and North Korea represented my parents thinking and values during the 1950s. I wanted to let them know about my parents and their community and the ways in which their beliefs and values shaped who I am today.
Nora Straus Albert lived in Sunnyside until 1968. She received her BA from City College, her BS in Nursing and MA in Psychiatric Nursing from Rutgers. Married to Ken Albert in 1968, they raised two daughters in Englewood,NJ. They now live in Northampton, MA near their grandchildren.