The Mysterious Origins of J. Edgar Hoover

by Edward Spannaus

Printed in the American Almanac, August, 2000.

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One of the most virulent racists to hold a top government position in this country in the 20th Century was J. Edgar Hoover, the long-time director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover was notorious for his targetting of blacks: civil rights leaders, elected officials, newspaper publishers, or even artists such as the great singer Paul Robeson.

But yet, during Hoover's tenure as head of the FBI, which lasted from 1924 until his death in 1972, there were persistent rumors--both inside and outside the FBI--that Hoover himself was descended from African-Americans.

The recent publication of a book by a descendant of Mississippi slaves, who believes that her family is related to J. Edgar Hoover, has re-opened the issue, and investigations by EIRNS, and other researchers, is shedding new light on the subject of Hoover's racial origins.

Both as a matter of historical record--and more importantly, because the racist legacy of Hoover still lives on in sections of the United States Department of Justice and the FBI--we hereby publish the results of this ongoing investigation.

Hoover's Racist Legacy

On January 27, 1988, Rep. Mervyn Dymally, then the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, put into the Congressional Record a sworn affidavit from former FBI special agent Hirsch Friedman, exposing an FBI program called ``Operation Fruehmenschen'' (German for ``primitive'' or ``early man.'') Friedman's affidavit, originally filed in Federal court in Atlanta, and provided to the relevant committees of the House of Representatives, declared:

``The purpose of this policy was the routine investigation without probable cause of prominent elected and appointed black officials in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States. I learned from my conversations with special agents of the FBI that the basis for this policy was the assumption by the FBI that black officials were intellectually and socially incapable of governing major governmental organizations and institutions.''

During Ad Hoc Democratic Platform Hearings June 22, that were facilitated by Lyndon LaRouche's Presidential campaign committee, former Tennessee judge and legislator Ira Murphy testified about Operation Fruehmenschen, which he has studied extensively. Judge Murphy stated that he and others believe that the operation began ``under the late Richard Nixon, and J. Edgar Hoover, and it has continued since that time.'' Judge Murphy said that some of the investigations of Fruehmenschen show that over 300 black and minority officials have been investigated by the FBI and the Justice Department.

Hoover's obsession with blacks was well-known. In 1956, in the wake of the Supreme Court's school desegregation decisions, Hoover fought with Attorney General Brownell over Brownell's proposals for new civil rights laws and enforcement provisions. Hoover declared that ``the specter of racial intermarriage'' was behind the tensions over ``mixed schooling,'' and he attacked the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, while defending and praising the White Citizens Councils in the South. It was also in 1956 that Hoover launched the FBI's COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) which targetted civil rights groups and leaders, among others.

During the Kennedy Administration, and especially when Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, took over the Justice Department and became Hoover's nominal boss, tensions over the racism which pervaded Hoover's FBI, came to the fore under pressure from the new Administration. Agents would mock Robert Kennedy: ``Boys, if you don't work with vigah, you'll be replaced by a niggah.'' In the early '60s, one agent reported, ``in about 90% of the situations in which Bureau personnel referred to Negroes, the word `nigger' was used and always in a very derogatory manner.''[fn1]

As would be expected under the climate set by Hoover, there were absolutely no African-American FBI agents during this time. At the time of Hoover's death in 1972, blacks still constituted less than 1% of FBI special agents.

Hoover's infamous campaign to destroy Dr. Martin Luther King was not the first time he had undertaken such an effort. Author Richard Gid Powers points out the parallel to the campaign, which Hoover coordinated, against Marcus Garvey and the black nationalist movement, from 1919 to 1923.

As early as 1957, Hoover ordered his agents to monitor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when the SCLC began a campaign to register eligible black voters in the South. By the beginning of the 1960s, the FBI was routinely carrying out illegal break-ins of SCLC offices, and wiretapping Rev. King's telephones.

Hoover's obsession with destroying King--or, in Bureau-speak, ``neutralizing'' him--became notorious. In 1964, Hoover sent out a memo to field offices urging them to gather ``information concerning King's personal proclivities ... in order that we may consider using this information at an opportune time in a counterintelligence move to discredit him.'' Hoover also urged agents to use their media contacts to defame King. And FBI Headquarters sent out derogatory reports on King to the White House, the news media, universities, and religious organizations--especially to discourage the latter two groups of institutions from granting any honors or awards to King.

The most outrageous, proven action undertaken by Hoover's FBI against Dr. King was the late-1964 letter to King, purporting to be from a black leader, urging King to kill himself under the blackmail threat that compromising tape recordings of himself would be made public.

Thus, it is no surprise that jubilant cries of ``They got the SOB!'' reverberated through the Atlanta FBI office when the news first came over the radio that Dr. King had been shot in Memphis on April 4, 1968. One former FBI agent recalled another agent shouting ``We finally got the son of a bitch!''[fn2]

On March 4, 1968, FBI Headquarters issued a memorandum expanding its COINTELPRO activities against ``Black Nationalist--Hate Groups,'' and warning that Dr. King, among others, could emerge as a ``|`messiah' who could unify and electrify the black nationalist movement.'' The memorandum called for the use of ``imaginative'' techniques, and required a report on accomplishments within 30 days. Exactly 30 days later, on April 4, Dr. King was assassinated. Hoover's cooperation with military intelligence units conducting surveillance and more deadly operations against King has been documented in Dr. William Pepper's book Orders to Kill.

(Such COINTELPRO operations--including efforts to foment violence and assassinations--didn't stop in 1971, as the FBI claims, nor did they stop with Hoover's death in 1972. In late 1973, an FBI memorandum from its New York office called for the ``elimination'' of Lyndon LaRouche, by means of orchestrating FBI assets inside the Communist Party USA; the FBI memorandum opined that, without LaRouche's leadership, the association he had founded ``would fall apart with strife and conflict.'')

`Black Like Me'

Hoover's obsessive hostility and hatred toward African-Americans was well-known throughout his career, especially in later years. What is less well-known is that rumors about J. Edgar Hoover's possible black ancestry were also widespread during his reign, both inside and outside of the Bureau. There are reports that Hoover deployed his agents to track down rumors of his black ancestry, just as he did regarding rumors and reports about his homosexuality.

Author Anthony Summers, in researching his book Official and Confidential, interviewed writer Gore Vidal, who grew up in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s. ``Hoover was becoming famous,'' Vidal told Summers, ``and it was always said of him--in my family and around the city--that he was mulatto. People said he came from a family that had `passed.' It was the word they used for people of black origin who, after generations of inbreeding, have enough white blood to pass themselves off as white. That's what was always said about Hoover.''

Summers also cited a New York Post reporter, who, while researching an article on Hoover, found that blacks referred to Hoover as ``some kind of spook'' and even ``soul brother,'' and realized that in African-American communities in the East, it was generally believed that Edgar had black roots.

Many former FBI agents recall that rumors about Hoover's ancestry were prevalent within the Bureau.

Wesley Swearingen, a former FBI Special Agent (from 1951 to 1977), and author of the 1995 book FBI Secrets: An Agent's Exposé, told EIRNS that it was always a bit of a mystery among FBI agents why Hoover didn't have a better-documented heritage. ``Because for all the FBI agents, they'd go back and check everything about your family, your relatives, and everything else, to make sure they're squeaky clean,'' Swearingen said. ``And here, [he's] the Director, and nobody knows really where he came from.''

The paucity of information on Hoover's background was noted in the opening chapter of Ovid Demaris's book The Director, first published in 1975. Demaris opened with about a 500-word summary of Hoover's early life, and then reported that this summary--taken from a 1937 profile in the New Yorker magazine written by one Jack Alexander--contained almost everything that was known about Hoover's early years. Demaris commented that Alexander might have been ``the most plagiarized writer in America'' because so many later writers had relied on his skimpy profile.

With respect to Hoover's early childhood, we might add, this recycling of Alexander's profile has continued up to the present day.

Now, back to Swearingen's account. He says that the questions about Hoover's background wouldn't be discussed inside the FBI office, because if a supervisor or a Hoover ``hatchetman'' overheard such talk, that could be the end of an agent's career. But outside the office--at least in Chicago in the 1950s--it was different.

``Agents would get into topics like that where they on a surveillance or something, when they finished the crossword puzzle, and had nothing else to do, and they'd start talking about Hoover,'' Swearingen recalls. They would discuss how Hoover couldn't document his background. ``All the agents would get onto the subject of his real tight hair, his tight, wirey hair, and speculation that maybe there was a little hanky-panky in his family. And then his facial characteristics were really unusual.|...''

``In later years,'' Swearingen continued, when Hoover became so hostile to Martin Luther King, ``agents always knew he was a racist. It just didn't seem to fit, why he would be so anti-black. And agents would discuss that. I never heard Presidents at that time speak out against black people the way Hoover did.''

The Mississippi Hoovers

So, as we see, the rumors about Hoover's ancestry have been known for years.

But now, out of Mississippi, comes another story, which has spurred a new round of genealogical research into J. Edgar Hoover's family background.

In the late 1950s, a ten-year-old black girl came home from school, where her class had been studying history and the role of J. Edgar Hoover had come up. The girl had heard stories from her grandfather about their own white ancestors named Hoover; her family was descended from slaves on a plantation in Pike County, Mississippi, which had been owned by a Hoover family.

As Millie McGhee, now 52, tells the story in her book Secrets Uncovered, and also in interviews with EIRNS, her grandfather, whom she called ``Big Daddy,'' asked her how J. Edgar Hoover's name had come up.

``In my history class I learned that he is the director of the FBI,'' young Millie answered. ``Someone said he has even more power than the President of the United States.''

``Well, that could be true,'' her grandfather responded. ``He does have a lot of power.'' He then shrugged, and went on: ``That old goat is related to me, he is my second cousin.''

Her grandfather warned her not to tell anyone. ``This is a family secret,'' the girl was told. Her grandfather said that Hoover was ``passing,'' and that he could have them all killed, that they could be burned in their beds as they sleep. ``He doesn't want the secret out, and he is a powerful man!'' the trembling young girl was told.

When the young girl asked her grandfather if there wouldn't be records, such as a birth certificate, which would show him to be related to the family of former slaves, her grandfather told her: ``J. Edgar Hoover has a lot of power. He can destroy files, and he's already done it.''

According to McGhee's account, she was so frightened that she suppressed the memory, which only gradually came back while she was writing a fantasy-story of her family's history as slaves. After inquiring of her mother, she was told that, indeed, Hoover was a cousin. One thing led to another, and soon she was consulting a professional genealogist,

In November 1998, Millie McGhee, by now an educator in California, retained George Ott of Heritage Consulting in Salt Lake City, Utah, to assist her in attempting to document her family history, and to see if there were any links to the family of J. Edgar Hoover.

Through his research, with some assistance from others researching the Hoover family, Ott found that some aspects of Millie's story bore a remarkable correspondence to the documentary record, but that other aspects could not be documented or corroborated.

According to McGhee's account, a composite of the family's oral history, reconstructed memories, and fantasy, the Washington, D.C. Hoovers, a mixture of black and white, were related to the Mississippi Hoovers. The part of the family's oral history which was very specific, and oft-repeated, was that she and her family are descended from the union of a slave-woman and her master, which resulted in the birth of a daughter in 1814 in Virginia, named Elizabeth Allan.

Elizabeth, according to the oral history, was taken to Maryland by a Hoover man. Her first born was Emily, very light-skinned, who was taken away from her, and brought to Mississippi, where she became the mistress of a plantation owner, William Hoover, and bore many children by him. Meanwhile, according to the oral tradition, Elizabeth, still in the Maryland/D.C. area, married another William Hoover, and passed for white, and had seven Hoover children.

But, there were other stories Millie had heard through her family. One was that J. Edgar himself was not the son of Dickerson N. Hoover of Washington, as officially reported, but that he was actually the son of one Ivy (Ivery) Hoover, and was born in the South, probably New Orleans, and then taken to Washington, D.C. at a very young age, and raised by the Hoovers in Washington.

This spring, McGhee published her recollections and her preliminary findings in a book called Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover--Passing for White?.[fn3] A second, revised edition has just been published, which contains the results of additional research, plus some material supplied by this author and other researchers.

Ott, the genealogist, found that some records coincided quite well with Millie's oral history. For example, the 1860 census for Washington, D.C. shows a William Hoover, born 1804 in Maryland, married to Elizabeth A., born 1814 in Virginia. The next entry in the census is for a John T. Hoover, who has a son named Dickerson N. Hoover; this is certainly the Dickerson N. Hoover considered to be the father of J. Edgar Hoover.

In subsequent research, conducted since the publication of the first edition of McGhee's book, Ott has found census records for Mississippi that also correspond to the family oral tradition regarding ``Emily,'' and he has recently found records which appear to link the Maryland and the Mississippi Hoover families. Ott also found strange--and highly unusual--alterations and erasures in some of the census records pertaining to other Hoovers in Washington.

Neither McGhee or Ott have yet been able to provably document the stories that Ivery or ``Ivy'' Hoover was the actual father of J. Edgar Hoover--although McGhee has additional material suggesting that this may be the case.

Who Was J. Edgar?

With his interest piqued by McGhee's account, this writer has confirmed that there are substantial discrepancies and oddities concerning J. Edgar Hoover's early biography.

Strikingly, there does not appear to be {any} contemporaneous record of Edgar's birth in Washington. Hoover's own autobiographical account--on which virtually all biographers have relied--states that he was born January 1, 1895, at his parents' home on Seward Square, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with a physician, Dr. Mallan, in attendance.

However, despite the fact that it was legally required to report a birth to the District of Columbia Health Department, and that this had been done for the first two children born in the family (Dickerson, Jr. and Lillian), there was no certificate of birth filed for Edgar by Dr. Mallan.

The entry for John Edgar Hoover in the Washington D.C. index of births was clearly added at a much later date, and the certificate number contains the suffix ``D''--signifying a delayed filing.

This writer obtained a certified copy of Edgar's actual birth certificate--which was not filed until 1938, when Hoover was 43 years old! The verification of birth is provided by an affidavit executed by Edgar's older brother Dickerson N. Hoover, Jr., who states that he was present when Edgar was born, and that he himself was 15 years old at the time. Oddly, Dickerson's affidavit does not mention a doctor being present, in contrast to Edgar's own account.

(Curiously, Hoover never applied for a birth certificate until after his mother's death in February 1938. It seems obvious that his mother--if she in fact was his mother--would have been by far the best witness, rather than a 15-year-old boy.)

John Edgar Hoover was baptized at age 13, during the time he was under the tutelage of his brother Dickerson, who took him from one church to another, looking for the most prestigious congregation. The church baptismal record, obtained by this writer, lists his date of birth as June (not January) 1, 1895.

A question also might be raised as to why Edgar was not baptized until age 13, since the various churches with which his family was associated (Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian), all practice infant baptism.

About the same time that Hoover's birth certificate was filed, in September 1938, he also obtained a letter from the church, certifying his baptismal record. The letter also gives Edgar's date of birth as June 1, 1895, with ``Jan.'' written over ``June'' in an obviously different hand than the signature of the church's then-current pastor.

Photographic Evidence

A second area of discrepancy involves photographs. The most famous photograph purporting to show Edgar as a young child, is the oval ``family photograph,'' published in most biographies of Hoover. But there is strong evidence suggesting that this is not Edgar, but his brother Dickerson.

Around 1989, the curators of the exhibit in the J. Edgar Hoover Room at the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Washington--Hoover loyalists from the J. Edgar Hoover Foundation--changed the identification of the child from Edgar, to Dickerson, and is how it is now so-labelled in the exhibit in the J. Edgar Hoover Room.

This writer has located a photograph showing both Edgar and Dickerson, taken in 1935. This photograph, published here apparently for the first time, not only displays the sharply differing appearances of the two brothers, but it also supports the notion that the famous ``family photograph'' portrays Dickerson rather than Edgar.

By most accounts, Hoover's family life--if it was his actual family--was less than ideal. Writer Anthony Summers, among others, describes Hoover as ``the offspring of a disturbed father and an ambitious mother.''

Edgar's relationship to his father, Dickerson Naylor Hoover, was virtually non-existent. According to even his closest friends and associates, he never discussed his father. In 1913, his father was placed in a sanitorium for what was described as a ``nervous breakdown.'' He was released after a few months, but his condition steadily deterioriated, and in 1917, he was forced to resign his job with the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. He went back to the sanitorium numerous times, and died in 1921. The causes of death were listed as ``melancholia'' and ``inanation,'' i.e., depression and the loss of the will to live.

By contrast, Edgar's relationship with his mother was one of extreme dependency. As a child, he was described as high-strung, sickly, and ``excessively fearful'' by relatives. That fearfulness apparently included a terror of separation from his mother: Edgar lived with her, in the same house on Seward Square, until her death in 1938.

(Of course, were it the case that Edgar had already been separated from his real mother at an early age, and Annie Hoover was actually his adoptive or surrogate mother, this psychological profile would be entirely consistent with such a scenario.)

The two sides of Hoover's family seem to play distinct roles in our story. It seems likely that Hoover's black ancestry would have come through the Hoover side of the family--either perhaps through his great-grandmother, or possibly directly from his parents, if the hypothesis about his being born elsewhere turns out to be correct.

There are also indications that his Dickerson and Naylor ancestors (through Hoover's paternal grandmother) were involved in a post-Civil War ``underground railroad'' which was used to assist light-skinned blacks to make the transition from black society to white society. (An academic study cited in McGhee's book, reports that more than three-quarters of African-Americans have some white ancestry, and that at least 23% of white Americans have an African-American element in their background.)

In the search of census records undertaken by McGhee and the genealogist retained by her, both Hoover and Naylor families were living in areas of Washington D.C.--a mostly segregated city--where blacks and whites were listed as living in close proximity. Some of the white Hoover families had blacks living with them, not as servants, but blacks being of the same occupation, such as ``butcher'' or ``clerk.'' There are also alterations and other oddities in a number of the Hoover family census records, and also in the racial listings which were then included in census records.

His mother's side of the family seems to have played the major role in Edgar's rapid rise to power. There is also more documentation of Hoover's ancestry on the mother's side of the family than the father's.

Annie Scheitlin Hoover was regarded by her family and others as having married ``beneath her station'' when she married Dickerson Hoover in 1879. Annie's mother, Margaret Hitz Scheitlin, was the daughter of a Swiss-born mining engineer, John (Hans) Hitz, who came to the United States around 1820, and who also became the Swiss Counsel to the United States in 1853. Upon his death, his son (and Margaret's brother) John Hitz then became the Swiss Counsel. Margaret's mother (and Annie's grandmother) Anna Hitz was known as ``Mother Hitz'' during the Civil War, when she provided nursing services, food, and other comforts of life to Union soldiers quartered on Capitol Hill.

Although one cousin on the Hoover side--John E. Hoover--was a Justice Department lawyer and may have aided Edgar's rise to power, the most significant assistance clearly came from the Hitz branch of the family.

Annie's cousin William Hitz held the position of special assistant to the Attorney General in 1916, when he was appointed a judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. William Hitz was well-connected, and it is almost certain that it was he who got Edgar his first job in the Justice Department.

Harold Hitz Burton, later a Supreme Court justice, was also a distant cousin of Hoover's--as well as being a 33rd-degree Mason, as was Edgar in later life.

Egdar attended night school at George Washington University and obtained a law degree in 1917, the same year he passed the D.C. bar.

The `Southern Fraternity'

While at GWU, he became active in what is politely called the ``Southern Fraternity,'' the Kappa Alpha Order; others have likened it to the college auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan. Annie Hoover was the honorary ``housemother'' for Kappa Alpha at GWU, and Hoover remained active in it for the rest of his life. Many of his closest associates at the FBI were also Kappa Alpha members.

In July 1917, while other young men were being drafted to fight and die in World War|I, Hoover got himself appointed to a clerkship in the Justice Department. (In a typical J. Edgar Hoover re-write of history, later accounts said he had been declared ``essential'' by the Attorney General and thus couldn't enlist in the Army; the problem with this is that the U.S. entered the war more than three months {before} Edgar went to work at the Justice Department.)

Within six months, Hoover had been twice promoted, and he was put in charge of the Enemy Aliens Registration Section. This position was secured for him by John Lord O'Brian, the special assistant to the Attorney General for war work. It also seems that O'Brian obtained for Hoover the designation of ``Special Agent'' in 1917--earlier than many accounts indicate.

O'Brian appears to be the key figure in Hoover's early career and his rapid advancement. A prominent lawyer and progressive Republican from Buffalo, New York, O'Brian was a close friend of William Hitz and a fellow member of the Cosmos Club, one of Washington's leading establishment social clubs. O'Brian was also a law partner and mentor of William Donovan, who later headed the OSS (the wartime Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA), and became a bitter rival of Hoover.

Despite his ``progressive'' and liberal political profile, O'Brian was one of the key promoters of the anti-radical hysteria which dominated the Justice Department at the time. He prosecuted Socialist Party leader and Presidential candidate Eugene Debs, and it was O'Brian who urged Attorney General Thomas Gregory to deputize the vigilante American Protective League for the round-ups of labor radicals and draft-age men, and later for the notorious ``Palmer Raids,'' in which perhaps 10,000 suspected radicals were rounded up in coordinated raids in 33 American cities.

Like almost everything else in Hoover's early life, there is also some mystery about Hoover's duties in the Justice Department during the First World War. A 1930s account of the early history of the FBI--suppressed by Hoover--was used by former Attorney General Homer Cummings in the writing of his 1937 book Federal Justice. In writing about the creation of the General Intelligence Division in 1919, Cummings says that it was organized ``under the direct administration of J. Edgar Hoover, since 1917, in charge of counter-radical activities as special assistant to the attorney general.''

As author Curt Gentry points out in his 1991 book J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and his Secrets, this means that Hoover was involved in anti-radical activities as early as 1917--two years before the official FBI histories say he was involved. It also means that Hoover was involved in anti-radical actitivies {prior} to the 1919-20 Palmer or ``Red'' Raids.

A word about the formation of the FBI. First known as the ``Bureau of Investigtion,'' or BI, it was created over the opposition of the U.S. Congress, through an executive order, by President Theodore Roosevelt and his Attorney General, Charles Bonaparte (a nephew of Napoleon III). When Congress objected and launched an investigation, which included allegations that members of Congress were being surveilled and their mail opened, Teddy Roosevelt denied it--but he admitted that sometimes, through the ``accidental breaking of such [a mail] package, the contents are exposed.'' To emphasize the point, TR then proceeded to publish the private correspondence of Sen. Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, an outspoken critic of Roosevelt's Administration.

In 1919, at the height of the Red Scare, the General Intelligence Division (GID) was created within the Justice Department to collect and collate information on radicals supplied by the BI, military intelligence agencies, other government agencies, local police, and the private sector. Hoover was named chief of the GID. Within three to four months, the GID had assembled files on 60,000 suspected radicals; soon the GID's files contained over 200,000 names.

In 1921, Hoover was named assistant chief of the Bureau of Investigation, and in 1924--at 29 years of age--Hoover was made head of the Bureau by Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone, who had been named by President Calvin Coolidge to replace Mitchell Palmer, notorious author of the Palmer Raids. This was the position that Hoover was to hold for 48 years, until his death in 1972.

(In 1935, Congress renamed the Bureau of Investigation the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the name implied an independent agency status, although it nominally remained part of the Department of Justice.)

Hoover was supposedly brought in to clean up the BI; as part of this, the GID--tainted by the Palmer Raids--was disbanded. In another example of the rewriting of history, Hoover and his spokesman would later try to disassociate the Director from the GID and the Palmer Raids.

But in 1936, the intelligence function of the FBI was revived, and in 1939 President Franklin Roosevelt ordered that all domestic intelligence concerning subversion, espionage, sabotage, etc. to be referred to the FBI by military intelligence agencies. It was certainly at this time, if not earlier, that Hoover formalized his alliance with Military Intelligence (Army) and with Naval Intelligence, which persisted for decades.

At the same time, Hoover revived the GID as Division Five of the FBI, first renamed the Security Division, then the Domestic Intelligence Division, and then the Intelligence Division, with jurisdiction over counterintelligence and internal security. As part of this arrangement, Hoover established a close working relationship with British Intelligence's Special Operations Executive headed by Sir William Stephenson--although that relationship cooled from time to time, because of Hoover's competitive and adversarial attitude toward the OSS and its director William Donovan, as well as toward the OSS's successor, the Central Intelligence Agency.

`All of Us Negroes'

Hoover's remarkable career path would undoubtedly never have been possible, had Hoover been known to have been partly black in his family background. In the decade of his birth, Jim Crow laws were re-instituted through the South. Under the infamous Democratic Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (when Hoover began his career in the Justice Department), segregation was reinstituted throughout the Federal civil service, which had been exempted from Jim Crow laws.

And under the prevailing ``one drop'' rule, any amount of Negro blood or ancestry would exclude a person from most positions or careers--and certainly from high government positions.

Was Hoover's legendary enmity toward blacks, a form of self-hatred, or self-protection, against his knowledge or suspicion that he himself was partially black?

And consider, in this light, the FBI's ``suicide'' letter sent to Dr. King in 1964, drafted by William Sullivan at the personal direction of Hoover:

``King, look into your heart. You know, you are a complete fraud and a greater liability to all of us Negroes.... King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader.... King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is.... There is just one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.''

The FBI-authored letter was accompanied by a tape purporting to consist of sounds of King's bedroom activities.

Not Ancient History

Determining the truth about J. Edgar Hoover's ancestry is not merely a matter of historical interest, or simply a question of setting the record straight. As we noted at the beginning of this article, to this day, the Justice Department and the FBI have continued the targetting of African-American elected officials which began under Hoover's reign.

It is not unrelated, that the senior career official in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, who oversees the targetting and prosecution of public officials, is John Keeney--a man who got his start working in the Justice Department's Internal Security Division in 1951, working hand-in-glove with Hoover's FBI. Think of it: Keeney spent the 1930s first two {decades} of his career working side-by-side with J. Edgar Hoover; Hoover has been dead for almost 30 years, but Jack Keeney is still a top official in Justice Department headquarters.

A significant number of investigators and journalists are now pursuing the story of J. Edgar Hoover's ancestry, and it is quite likely that over the coming months, more and more of the truth will emerge.

Meanwhile, there is no reason to wait, to undertake the task of eradicating the last vestiges of Hoover's hateful legacy from today's FBI and Justice Department.


  1. Richard Gid Powers, Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1987, p. 367.

  2. Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, 1991, p. 606; Anthony Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993, p. 364

  3. Millie L. McGhee Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar Hoover--Passing for White?, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Allen-Morris, 2000

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