Remembering Casey Hayden | in her own words

Casey Hayden wrote her own obituary and emailed it to a dear friend with instructions to share it with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).  Casey’s friend gave The Rag Blog permission to post it.

Casey Hayden, New York City, 1965. Photo by D Gorton.

Obituary, written by Casey:

Casey Hayden, one of the few white Southerners to join the anti-segregation movement of the ’60s in the South, and a widely recognized precursor of the women’s liberation movement, died on 1/4/23 with her children holding her hands.

Born Sandra Cason, a name she continued to use legally, she was the child of divorced Texas liberals, William Charles Cason and Eula Weisiger Cason Beams. Raised by her grandparents and her single mother in Victoria, Texas, she was fourth generation, her grandfather the county sheriff. She attended local public schools, Victoria Junior College, and the University of Texas, where she graduated with honors as a member of Mortarboard, the senior women’s honorary society. An activist and a student leader in the Campus YWCA locally and nationally, she was as well a scholar/resident of the radical Christian existentialist Christian Faith and Life Community.

She was swept up into the ’60’s by the student sit-in movement of black college students in the deep South, starting February 1, 1960, which she joined as a graduate student. Following a six-week summer residential training for Southern campus leaders sponsored by the Field Foundation and the United States National Student Association, she spoke for civil disobedience at the National Congress of USNSA, quoting Thoreau and swinging support to the new Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

She organized stand ins at the local University movie theatre and other UT anti-segregation efforts; met and married Tom Hayden; took a traveling job organizing illegal integrated workshops with the Southern Region of the Campus YWCA, working for the iconic Ella Baker and with SNCC in Atlanta, from whence she took the last Freedom Ride, to Albany, Georgia, as undercover observer.

She was a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society and the connection between SDS and SNCC; attended the Port Huron Conference; and served as first Northern Coordinator of SNCC, creating nationwide student support. In 1963 she moved to Mississippi to research and train staff for the challenge to the seating of the all-white Mississippi delegation by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Atlantic City convention; took up photography as first woman in SNCC to do so, and co-authored two papers which are widely credited with launching women’s liberation and second wave feminism.

After the South, she joined the counterculture, establishing a commune in Vermont with other Southern movement dropouts and then the first yoga center in San Francisco with the father of her children, Donald C. Boyce III, as well as the home birth movement in which she bore two children. She was an early student of Tibetan Buddhism, followed by 20 years of zen. Working for the City of Atlanta under Andrew Young, she recovered in Twelve Step programs.

She moved to Tucson in the late ’80s; started her own business, Zendo Cleaning; and married the activist Episcopal priest Rev. Paul W. Buckwalter whom she met through the Dalai Lama. They traveled statewide creating Arizona Interfaith on behalf of the excluded and needy and at home reconstructed an abandoned house in the old black ghetto and created a permaculture landscape. Her latter years were among her happiest.

An iconic figure in her youth, and a fine writer, she contributed to and appears in many historical books about the sixties. Her story is told by Harold Smith in the essay Casey Hayden: Gender and the Origins of SNCC, SDS, and the Women’s Liberation Movement in the book Texas Women, Their Histories, Their Lives, University of Georgia Press, 2015, and in her own words in the essay Fields of Blue in the volume she organized, Deep in Our Hearts, Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement, University of Georgia Press, 2000.

She was preceded in death by her beloved husbands, and survived by her son Donald Campbell Boyce IV of Tucson, her daughter Rosemary Lotus Boyce of Los Angeles, and her sister, Karen Beams Hanys of Porter, Texas. Her ashes are her children’s.


Afterword:

Casey (Sandra Cason) helped launch Students for Direct Action (SDA) in Austin at the University of Texas.  SDA organized “Stand-Ins” at movie theaters in 1960 that were successful in integrating movie venues. 

People’s History in Texas (PHIT), began to collect oral histories from the Stand-In veterans when they celebrated a 50th anniversary in 2010.  In 2013, PHIT produced a short documentary.  Casey’s comments are toward the end on this YouTube link.

Casey Hayden’s obituary was published in The New York Times on January 13, 2023.

Casey Hayden was featured as a “A Life Well Lived” on NBC’s Today show with Willie Geist on February 22, 2023.

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