George Rose / Getty Images

Tom Hayden, counterculture icon, invites public to dig into his archives

Cache includes 22,000 pages of FBI files showing government surveillance of him and Jane Fonda

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The man regarded as the intellectual father of the 1960s is opening up his archives in what historians of modern America regard as one of the most important document dumps in recent times, and one that breaks a tradition in which monumental public figures wait until they are dead to show the world the personal papers, diaries and mementos of their most tumultuous times.

This week, the University of Michigan has been hosting alumnus Tom Hayden, now 74, for a series of events that culminate in a celebration on Thursday to mark the delivery of more than 120 boxes of material that historians and journalists will likely spend generations exploring for insights into the making of that all-important epoch of social and cultural upheaval.

Among the key caches in the bequest are more than 22,000 pages of FBI files showing the government’s exhaustive 15-year surveillance of him and his then-wife Jane Fonda as well as the bureau’s often ham-handed attempts to create rifts between Hayden’s circle and other prominent civil rights groups such as the Black Panthers. Hayden obtained the files in the mid-1970s after successfully suing the government on grounds that they had been illegally monitoring his actions.

From left, Tom Hayden, Cesar Chavez and Ken Msemaji, leading a march at the 10th annual Malcolm X Kuzaliwa celebration in May 1977.
Tom Hayden Papers / University of Michigan

“Tom is one of the great figures of the 20th century,” said Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College in New York and author of several books on the era including “America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.” “He was absolutely formative in the early 1960s. I will be fascinated to see the archives, and it is wonderful to have them while he’s still alive.”

Hayden burst onto the national stage in the early 1960s as the primary drafter of the Port Huron Statement, a 25,000-word manifesto published in 1962 that laid out the goals of the then-budding student protest movement. He went on to become a leading voice opposing the Vietnam War, making several controversial visits to North Vietnam during the conflict. As a key organizer of student protests in Chicago outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Hayden was convicted of inciting violence, but the conviction was later overturned.

He also is the author of 20 books on social issues, and served 18 years in the California Legislature where he championed immigration rights, climate change and animal welfare. He ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee for Los Angeles mayor and lost a close primary battle to unseat a sitting Democratic U.S. senator. As recently as last week, Hayden weighed in on current events in an essay for The San Francisco Chronicle in which he criticized President Barack Obama for not offering an exit strategy in his speech on the U.S. counterattack on ISIL.

“I can’t wait till after I’m dead [to make the archives public],” Hayden said in a phone interview from California last week in advance of his appearances in Ann Arbor. “A lot of this stuff was molding or on the verge of molding. It occurred to me it would be important to turn it over to some responsible researchers and archivists while I am alive and alert because it would help me go through it and share what is there with others, with professors, graduate students, with interested undergraduates.”

Hayden’s archives include a cartoon the FBI created and planned to distribute to cause friction between the New Left and the Black Panthers and an FBI memo explaining why the bureau didn’t go through with it.
Taoli Zhang

University of Michigan special collections curator Julie Herrada, who is overseeing the organization and management of the Hayden material, said Hayden’s availability to explain his own archives is unusual. “He’s also young enough to still come and actively engage and work with students regarding the papers,” she said, “[to] have them see the historical artifacts and talk to the person who created them.”

Indeed, Hayden insisted on it.

As part of his arrangement with UM, he will receive $200,000 over the coming four years to visit the campus and work with both archivists and students. Hayden said he also insisted that the UM collection, which primarily focuses on social movements, also accept his papers from his time as a California legislator so that his materials would all reside in one location. UM was hesitant to take on his lawmaker archives, he admitted, but he prevailed.

“I said I wanted to move all of it, not some of it,” he said.

‘I can’t predict what will turn up or how it will be used. And that’s fine.’

Tom Hayden

author, activist, politician

In many ways, the documents — which will be open to the public later this year after Herrada and her staff process and catalog them — reflect a period with important comparisons to the current one. The FBI files, for instance, show a federal government that conducted intensive, legally questionable surveillance on private citizens in an effort to thwart what it viewed as traitors and threats to domestic security. Hayden also shaped a time when a beleaguered nation was in an uproar over unpopular, seemingly endless foreign wars abroad and racial unrest at home.

In particular, Hayden hopes an enterprising scholar will compare his FBI files with those of his peers. His files have substantial redactions, notably the identities of FBI spies within liberal activist groups. “No one has ever put together a cross-section of all the files that have been released over the years,” Hayden said. “That would allow you to see what’s missing in one place and included in another and give you a broader sense of the early domestic spying of student and activists that long, long preceded today’s revelations by [NSA leaker Edward] Snowden or Wikileaks.”

Hayden rattled off a litany of items in the files, from photos of meetings with the Rev. Billy Graham to “Jane Fonda’s handwriting in the many, many notebooks we have from our trips to Vietnam.” Among those trips was the infamous 1972 visit to Hanoi in which Fonda was photographed smiling and seated on an anti-aircraft gun alongside North Vietnamese soldiers. Fonda has spent much of her life apologizing for or explaining an image many viewed as an anti-American betrayal by a beloved film star.

White supremacists pull Hayden from a stopped car and beat him in McComb, Mississippi, in 1961.
Tom Hayden Papers / University of Michigan

The archives also include documentation of episodes in Hayden and Fonda’s lives that would otherwise seem straight out of movie scripts. The FBI files provide details, for instance, of threats against Fonda’s life and attempts to extort her famous father, actor Henry Fonda. Hayden’s notebooks are also full of contemporaneous jottings about such events as his efforts in 1967 to secure the release of American prisoners of war in Vietnam, including interactions with the Cuban government at the time trying to persuade Hayden and the prisoners to defect to Havana.

Hayden’s interactions with the famous, infamous and powerful make the archive exciting for 1960s historians, said Robert Weisbrot, a professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, and author of “Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement.”

Weisbrot, for instance, is curious about Hayden’s relationship with slain California Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, whose funeral Hayden attended. “He mourned Kennedy. [He] cried at the casket,” Weisbrot said. "It was a fascinating interaction between the two that also goes to show how they viewed the country and how they each influenced the other’s views of the country.”

Hayden said the archive does not include much in the way of personal correspondence with the likes of Fonda. There are surprisingly fewer photos with the famous faces of the day than even he expected.

“That many years ago, I didn’t go around having my pictures taken with people like Robert Kennedy,” he said. “I did live in Atlanta. I did see [Martin Luther King Jr.] frequently. I don’t think any of us was busy taking notes for the future. And I regret that.”

Some figures of the era believe the Hayden archive is being overhyped, noting that Hayden has used the material for years for his own work.

“He’s a public figure and public man and a writer,” said Robert Ross, a fellow Port Huron Statement drafter and Hayden friend who is a research sociologist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

Those seeking juicy tidbits from Hayden’s 17-year marriage to Fonda, for instance, are likely to be disappointed. “Even among friends such as myself and others, Tom does not discuss his intimate life with Jane,” Ross said. “He didn’t just blindly dump a bunch of cartons on them. He’s a smart guy.”

Hayden said he’s excited to see what others make of his material and noted that there is likely information and documentation that he either doesn’t remember is there or never appreciated for their historical significance.

“My life is like an archeological dig,” he said. “There are multiple levels. I can’t predict what will turn up or how it will be used. And that’s fine.”

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