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Tom Hayden, Anti-Vietnam War Activist Turned Lawmaker, Dies


Tom Hayden, the political activist turned lawmaker and author, died yesterday. He was 76 and had been ill. Hayden was best known for his opposition to the Vietnam War and for his marriage to actress Jane Fonda. NPR's Ina Jaffe has more.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Tom Hayden is inseparably associated with the political turmoil of the 1960s. But fellow activist Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, says Hayden himself was not flamboyant.

BOBBY SEALE: Tom Hayden was more the intellectual, more the person who, you know, was observant, taking a lot of notes.

JAFFE: Hayden was one of the organizers of the anti-war protests outside of the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. And he was arrested and stood trial along with six other organizers for crossing state lines to incite a riot. They were known as the Chicago Seven. And the demonstrations indeed turned bloody, as you can hear in this description from CBS engineer Fred Turner (ph).


FRED TURNER: The cops are just laying it in. Oh, there's piles of bodies on the street. There's no question about it, you can hear the screams. And there's a guy they're just dragging along the street. And they don't care. I don't think - don't know whether he's alive or dead.

JAFFE: The Chicago Seven were convicted, but their convictions were overturned on appeal. The court found that the violence was caused by a police riot. Hayden's activism started before the events in Chicago. In the early '60s he traveled to the South, working for civil rights.

As a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, he was also a leader of SDS - Students for a Democratic Society. During this time, he wrote what became known as the Port Huron Statement, the foundational document of the student activist movement. Hayden said he was an unlikely choice for that task in a 2008 interview on C-SPAN.


TOM HAYDEN: They wanted me to stir it up a little bit. But my first sentence was - we are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably to the world we inherit. Not exactly the Communist Manifesto.


JAFFE: During the war, Hayden took a couple of controversial trips to North Vietnam. After one visit, he brought out three American prisoners of war. It was also opposition to the Vietnam War that brought Hayden and actress Jane Fonda together in the early 1970s. They were married for 17 years.

Unlike most of the '60s activists with whom he's associated, Hayden decided to run for political office. He served nearly two decades in the California state legislature, focusing on environmental and educational issues. For the once-scruffy activist, to put on a suit and tie and go to the Capitol was no surprise to his old friend Bobby Seale.

SEALE: The fact that he ran for political office was just a continuum of what we were about in the early '60s when we were organizing.

JAFFE: Hayden left the legislature due to term limits in 2000. He ran for mayor of Los Angeles and for the LA City Council, but was unsuccessful both times. In recent years, he continued to teach and to write, authoring or editing 19 books. He's survived by his wife, actress Barbara Williams, their son Liam and his son Troy from his marriage to Jane Fonda.

In an article in the Los Angeles Times, Hayden acknowledged some regrets, most of all that he compounded the pain of many Americans who lost sons and loved ones in Vietnam. He wrote, I will always believe the Vietnam war was wrong. I will never again believe that I was always right. Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."