Tom Hayden, Antiwar & Civil Rights Activist, Dies at 76

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Tom Hayden at a book store in Los Angeles.

The 1960s was an era of movement—civil rights, women’s rights, antiwar, not to mention sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Tom Hayden, who passed away Sunday at his home in Santa Monica, California at the age of 76, was one of America’s most famous radicals and put himself at the apex of the civil rights and antiwar movements.

In 1997, I interviewed Hayden and his son with Jane Fonda, Troy Garity, in Toronto. At the time I was a satellite segment producer for Entertainment Tonight and Garity was in town filming Steal This Movie, a biopic about Abbie Hoffman, where Garity played his father during the famous Chicago Seven Trial. Garity was camera shy and insisted on doing the interview only if his father sat in with him. Hayden was gracious and at ease talking about his days as a radical and what it meant seeing his son play him on screen. Of course his real life dramas far exceeded anything that a two-hour film could capture.

As a student at the University of Michigan Hayden was inspired by protests against the anti-Communist witch hunts and as well as black student protests in the south. Hayden met Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960 and joined voter registration protests in the south during the next couple of years where he was beaten and arrested on more than one occasion.

But he also saw the need for organization and in 1962 he joined Students for a Democratic Society and wrote the group’s manifesto, the Port Huron Statement (the name refers to the town in Michigan where the group met for a convention). The opening line, “We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit…” could easily be repurposed for students today.

Hayden would march through the decade protesting the Vietnam War (he was a fierce proponent of burning draft cards) and was involved in the planning of a major demonstration outside the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The result was a riot where police clashed with thousands and injured hundreds. Hayden was arrested and charged with inciting a riot and conspiracy, he was tried as one of the infamous Chicago Seven (which included fellow radical Abbie Hoffman). The conspiracy charges were dropped but Hayden was sentenced to five years in prison for inciting a riot but the charge was overturned on appeal.

With wife Jane Fonda in the 70s.

What set Hayden apart from his fellow dissidents was a natural ease with the media—he appeared to like the attention. And his marriage to superstar and political activist Jane Fonda did little to damper Hayden’s time in the spotlight. Together they toured North Vietnam and stirred up a firestorm of bad blood back home among veterans and patriots alike who saw their sympathies with the enemy as anti-American. Both Hayden and Fonda—who divorced in 1990—have since apologized for their behaviour at the time. Hayden wrote in his 1988 memoir, Reunion, one of 20 books he wrote in his lifetime, that he allowed his antiwar views and romanticism of the North Vietnamese to turn into anti-Americanism. Fonda would later go on the record as regretting the infamous photos she took in 1972 which led to her nickname as “Hanoi Jane.”

Like many of the Boomer generation, when the roar of the 60s died down Hayden eventually turned to the establishment becoming elected to the California Assembly and eventually State Senate. He made an unsuccessful run for Mayor of Los Angeles in 1994. His personal papers were donated to the University of Michigan and include a 22,000 page file from the 16 years he was under surveillance by the FBI.

Hayden with his son Troy Garity.

Hayden leaves behind his wife Barbara Williams and their adopted son Liam, stepdaughter Vanessa and son Garity. Garity has continued his acting career and currently currently stars in the HBO comedy Ballers. His mother Jane Fonda appeared on our June 2015 cover where she discusses how activism is still as important to her as acting. She most recently starred opposite Lily Tomlin on Netflix’s Grace and Frankie.