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Sun, 10.31.1937

Sandra ‘Casey’ Cason, Activist born

Sandra Casey Cason

*Sandra Cason "Casey" Hayden was born on this date in 1937. She was a white-American radical student activist and civil rights worker in the 1960s and is still active.

As a fourth-generation Texan, she was born Sandra Cason in Austin, Texas. She was raised in Victoria, Texas, in a "multigenerational matriarchal family" by her mother, Eula Weisiger Cason ("the only divorced woman in town"), her mother's sister, and her grandmother. She believed it cultivated an affinity for those on the margins from the outset.

In 1957 Cason enrolled as a junior at The University of Texas. She moved out of campus dorms into the Social Gospel and racially integrated Christian Faith and Life Community. An officer of the Young Women's Christian Association and member of the Social Action Committee of the university's Religious Council was soon engaged in civil-rights education and protest. Continuing from 1959 as a UT English and philosophy graduate student, she participated in a successful sit-in campaign to desegregate Austin-area restaurants and theaters.

At the National Student Association convention in Minneapolis in August 1960, Cason turned back a broadly supported motion that objecting to sit-ins would have denied support to the fledgling Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). "I cannot say to a person who suffers injustice, 'Wait,' And having decided that I cannot urge caution, I must stand with him." After a moment's silence, among the delegates who gave her a standing ovation were SDS president Alan Haber, who, as she recalls, "scooped" her up, and Tom Hayden, editor of the University of Michigan student newspaper. At the SNCC's second coordinating conference in Atlanta in October 1960, Cason reported herself transfixed by the idea of the Beloved Community as espoused by James Lawson and Diane Nash of the Nashville Student Movement. In 1961 Cason moved to New York City and lived with Tom Hayden. In a ceremony, they married in October and then moved to Atlanta.

"Godmother of the SNCC," Ella Baker had hired Cason (now Casey Hayden) for a YWCA special project, traveling to southern campuses to conduct integrated race-relations workshops (secretly in the case of some white schools). She also worked in the SNCC office on preparations for the Freedom Riders, among other projects. They were to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decision Boynton v. Virginia (1960). As Freedom Riders, the couple were arrested in December in Albany, Georgia. With Tom Hayden elected SDS president for the 1962–1963 academic year and Casey Hayden heeding the SNCC call to return to Atlanta, they divorced in 1965. While she had had the reputation in the SDS of being "one of the boys," much of the discussion within the SDS inner circle struck her as a young man posturing.

Her heart was with the SNCC, where, consistent with the focus on action, the greater value was placed on building relationships and where women, Black women, spoke out. In 1963, Casey Hayden moved to Mississippi, where, along with Doris Derby, she began a literacy project at Tougaloo College in an all-black community outside Jackson. The comparative safety of the college was a consideration: out in the field, the increased visibility she brought as a white woman was a risk to herself and her comrades. But it was also important to Hayden that the "request was specifically made" because of her background in English education: As a Southerner, I considered the Southern Freedom Movement Against Segregation mine as much anyone else's. I was working for my right to be with who I chose to be with as I chose to be with them. It was my freedom. However, when I worked full-time in the black community, I considered myself a guest of that community, which required decency and good manners, as every Southerner knows. I considered myself a support person; my appropriate role was to provide support from behind the lines, not to be a leader in any public way.  

It was not that within SNCC, she did not have a "right to leadership" but that "it would have been counterproductive." However, not being "a leader in any public way" did not leave Hayden feeling excluded. Her ability to make decisions and control her work was not a matter of formal position. In 1964 she became an organizer and strategist for Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in the challenge they were to mount to the seating of the all-white regulars at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She explained that:      I did the workup and down. That means I did my own typing and mimeographing, and mailing, and I also did my own research and analysis and writing, and decision-making, the latter usually in conversation with other staff. As we said at the time, both about our constituencies and ourselves, "The people who do the work should make the decisions." There were no secretaries in SNCC, with the exception of Norma Collins in the Atlanta office, so there was no office hierarchy. I was at the center of the organization, unlimited except by my own choices, and challenged at every turn to think and do and grow and care.  

However, when she joined Hayden in Jackson just the month before Freedom Summer, the era when "the beloved community" operated "in a space beyond race and gender" was already being spoken of with nostalgia. A hierarchy in place determined the definition of the "people" in the phrase, "Let the people decide. "There was an unspoken understanding of who should speak up at meetings, who should propose ideas in public places, and who should remain silent. It was not the traditional hierarchy. It was a hierarchy based on considerations of race, the amount of time spent in the struggle, dangers suffered, and finally, gender; black men were at the top of the hierarchy, then black women, followed by white men, and at the bottom, white women.”  Cason also said: "Women, black and white," still retained "an enormous amount of operational freedom; they were indeed the ones that were keeping things moving." But as people began to debate the direction the movement should take, "in the post-freedom summer reality," there was "little public recognition of that reality." 

At the end of the summer, she described everyone in the movement as "reeling from the violence," from the impact of "the new racial imbalance" following the influx of white-student volunteers, and from "the lack of direction and money." Most of all, they were staggered to find the Democratic Party "in the role of racist lunch counter owner refusing entrance to the MFDP at the Atlantic City convention. The core of SNCC's work, voter registration, was open to question." As an opportunity to take stock, critique, and reevaluate the organization, a retreat in Waveland, Mississippi, was organized for November.

At her last SNCC meeting in November 1965, she, "at dinner," told both James Forman and Chairman John Lewis that the "imbalance of power in SNCC" was such that they would both need to step down if the movement was to remain "radically democratic." In the meeting itself, her notes record that Hayden did not speak in defense of her position that a "looser structure" was not" 'no structure,' but [a] different structure" because she concluded, "no one would have listened." After 1965 she worked for the New York Department of Welfare for a couple of years before moving to a rural Vermont commune with other Mississippi veterans. She studied Zen Buddhism and had two children with Donald Campbell Boyce III. 

She and others established the Integral Yoga Institute of San Francisco in 1970. In 1981, Hayden worked for the voter-education, voter-registration Southern Regional Council in Atlanta. Later, she worked in the mayoral administration of Andrew Young as an administrative aide in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Culture. In 1994 she married Paul Buckwalter, with whom, in Tucson, Arizona, she cared for seven stepchildren. In 2010, she spoke against Arizona SB 1070, a state measure that criminalizes the movement by outlawing the shelter and transporting undocumented immigrants.

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There is a tree, by day, That, at night, Has a shadow, A hand huge and black, With fingers long and black, All through the dark, Against the white man's house, In the little wind, The black... TENEBRIS by Angelina weld Grimke’.
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