Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced last week a bill to remove former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s name from an FBI building.
“The civil rights we enjoy today are in spite of J. Edgar Hoover, not because of him,” Rep. Cohen said in a statement. “Yet, his name adorns one of the most prominent buildings in our nation’s capital and one that houses one of the agencies of government responsible for justice. Given his well-document abuses and prejudices towards African Americans, gays and lesbians, I believe it is past time to remove his name from this place of honor.”
Hoover served as FBI Director from 1924 until his death in 1972. While in this position he acquired a reputation for his distrust of the civil rights movements taking place during his lifetime.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Hoover saw the civil rights movement from the 1950s onward and the anti-war movement from the 1960s onward, as presenting the greatest threats to the stability of the American government since the Civil War,” said author Tim Weiner. In 2012 Weiner published Enemies: A History of the FBI, in which he discusses Hoover’s attitudes and actions regarding the civil rights movements.
“These people were enemies of the state, and in particular Martin Luther King [Jr.] was an enemy of the state. And Hoover aimed to watch over them,” Weiner explained. “If they twitched in the wrong direction, the hammer would come down on them.”
Hoover made sure the FBI kept a particularly close eye on Dr. King. He believed Dr. King and those closest to him were communists. Dr. King also attracted some unwanted attention from Hoover when he accused the FBI of not enforcing civil rights laws in the South and allowing police officers to engage in racist practices with no consequences.
Hoover eventually ordered that Dr. King’s bedroom be bugged. “When it came down to bugging bedrooms, you had to be careful not to get caught, but there wasn’t anything to stop [Hoover],” said Weiner.
Hoover discovered intimate details about Dr. King’s sex life, and the FBI used this information to blackmail Dr. King, who received a very nasty anonymous letter that he eventually figured out was from the FBI.
“It was a poison pen letter, it was a hate letter; it wasn’t from anyone in particular, but Martin Luther King [Jr.] and his wife would certainly know the source of the tapes, that it had to be the FBI,” Weiner said.
The letter, filled with misspellings and errors, read in part: “King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader. But you are done. Your ‘honorary’ degree, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done.”
It concludes by threatening Dr. King: “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraddulant (sic) self is bared to the nation.”
War on the LGBT Community
Hoover also made it a mission to identify all gay people or people he suspected were gay working for the government. He described gays as “sexual deviates.”
In a memo titled “Sex Deviates in Government Service I,” dated June 20, 1951, Hoover wrote:
Upon the receipt of an allegation that a present or former employee of any branch of the United States Government is a sex deviate such information in all cases, except those involving military personnel, should be disseminated by letter This letter should identify the employing agency and whether it has been advised.
Towards the end of the document, Hoover instructed all supervisors “to underline in green pencil the names of individuals mentioned in any report, letter, memorandum, newspaper article or other communication who are alleged to be sex deviates. This will assure proper indexing by the Records Section.”
That September Hoover wrote a follow-up memo, “Sex Deviates in Government Service II,” in which he elaborated further and also requested “the name of the alleged sex deviate as well as the name of any other alleged deviates with whom he associated,” as well as “the date and place that the alleged act of sexual perversion occurred.”
Following the collection of this information, people who were found to be “sex deviates” were forced to leave their jobs.
To reveal someone’s sexuality during this time period could prove detrimental to someone’s career as well as other aspects of his or her life, according to Doug Charles, a Penn State historian. Charles, author of this year’s “Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s ‘Sex Deviates’ Program,” said, “It was an effort to silence [gays], it was an effort to ruin their lives. Because if you were exposed as gay in the 1950s or 1960s, your life as you knew it was over.”
The collection of this data extended well into the 1970s and contained over 360,000 files, many of which were categorized as “Sex Perverts in Government Service.”
“In terms of FBI abuses, this ranks near the top,” Doug said.
The FBI Today
Hoover’s attempts to impede the civil rights movement hold no standing today. The FBI’s website lists “Protect[ing] civil rights” as one of its top 10 priorities. The FBI’s current director, James Comey, added “diversity” as one of the bureau’s core values and emphasized to his team that this includes members of the LGBT community.
“The goal should be to show current and potential employees that we are a welcoming family that cares about all of our folks, regardless of who they love,” Comey wrote in an email to his employees.
The values boasted by the FBI today do not echo those of Hoover, hence the bill to replace the J. Edgar Hoover building (where Comey’s office is located) with the Federal Bureau of Investigations building. According to Rep. Cohen, “[J. Edgar Hoover’s] efforts to silence Dr. King and out homosexuals working for the government were deplorable and a stain on our nation’s history and on the FBI.”