R.I.P. Tom Hayden, 1939-2016

Tom Hayden (Photo John Berman/CNN)

Tom Hayden (Photo John Berman/CNN)

On December 4, 1969, WC was sent by the University of Oregon student newspaper, the Emerald, to photograph a meeting of student radicals in a UO classroom. It was the day after Black Panther Fred Hampton was murdered in Chicago by Chicago police.1 The first words out of the first speaker’s mouth were, “Last night in Chicago, the pigs murdered Fred Hampton.” That first speaker was Tom Hayden and, as events subsequently proved, Hayden was exactly right.

If the radical student left of the late 1960s and early 1970s had an intellectual leader – you can make the case it didn’t, but if they did – it was Tom Hayden. While jailed during the ciivl rights protests in the South in 1962, Hayden began writing what became the Port Huron Statement, which in turn became the manifesto for the Students for a Democratic Society, the SDS, which Hayden co-founded. Hayden envisioned an alliance of college students in a peaceful crusade to overcome what the SDS called repressive government, corporate greed and racism. SDS’s avowed aim was to create a multiracial, egalitarian society. Hayden opposed violent protests but backed militant demonstrations, like the occupation of Columbia University campus buildings by students and the burning of draft cards.

But Hayden was further radicalized by three events. First, there was the assassination of his friends and allies, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, in 1968. And there was the increasingly obvious active provocation and sabotage by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover targeted Hayden for harassment by Hoover’s secret and illegal COINTELPRO.

Hayden helped plan the protests that, as it happened, triggered the Chicago police riot outside the 1968 Democratic convention. Along with seven co-defendants, he was indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and incitement to riot as part of the “Chicago Eight” (changed to “The Chicago Seven” after Bobby Seale‘s case was separated from the others), Hayden was convicted of incitement, but the conviction was reversed on appeal, as were the numerous contempt of court convictions unilaterally imposed by Judge Julius Hoffman. Hayden gained additional notoriety – or infamy, depending who you talk to – by visiting North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

In later years, Hayden was a politician, and criticized by the New Left for participating in the political process he had excoriated earlier. He served in the California Assembly and California Senate for many years, but was defeated in runs for the governorship and U.S. Senate.

Hayden authored some 20 books, chronicling his life and times from the perspective of a leftist intellectual. They are still a good read. The most important thing to remember about Tom Hayden is that, most of the time, he had things exactly right, although he derided at the time. Hoover, Vietnam, civil rights, wealth inequality, red scares; and, of course, the cops’ murder of Fred Hampton. He had them all right.

The other thing to know about Tom Hayden, and something he came to acknowledge, is that in his unrestrained zeal in support of his beliefs he sabotaged himself and his goals, time after time.

There’s a lesson there for all of us.

R.I.P. Tom Hayden, 1939-2016.


Mr. Hayden, one of the nation’s most visible radicals in the 1960s and early ’70s, was a founder of Students for a Democratic Society and a former husband of Jane Fonda.

Source: Tom Hayden, Civil Rights and Antiwar Activist Turned Lawmaker, Dies at 76 – The New York Times

  1. WC’s evidence professor at law school was Jon R. Waltz. It was Waltz who accepted and hid the front door to Hampton’s apartment. The door was critical evidence because, contrary to Chicago Police Department claims, all the bullets fired through it were shot from outside. The door became important evidence in the subsequent civil rights trial.