Hayden, born in 1939 in Detroit, first started publishing stories as a journalist
during his teenage years. In 1960, Hayden interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. during a protest of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles
. It was a moment, he later wrote for CNN, that changed the course of his life.
Soon, he became a foot soldier in the civil rights movement. As an activist, he became a Freedom Rider, riding interstate buses into the heart of Georgia in defiance of segregation. He later worked as a community organizer in impoverished parts of Newark, New Jersey.