J. Edgar Hoover biography
Born on January 1, 1895, in Washington, D.C., J. Edgar Hoover was the long-time director of the FBI (1924-1972) and spent much of his career gathering intelligence on radical groups and individuals and "subversives," Martin Luther King Jr. being one of his favorite targets. Hoover's methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps and planted evidence, and his legacy is tainted because of it. He died in Washington, D.C., on May 2, 1972.
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, lawyer, and criminologist. Born January 1, 1895, in Washington, D.C. to Annie Marie Scheitlin Hoover and Dickerson Naylor Hoover. Hoover attended night classes at George Washington University while working as a clerk at the Library of Congress.
After being admitted to the District of Columbia bar in 1917, his uncle—who was a judge—helped him land a job in the U.S. Justice Department. Within two years, he became special assistant to attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer. In this position, he was given the responsibility of heading a new section of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation called the General Intelligence Division. The G.I.D. was created to gather intelligence on radical groups, and was responsible for organizing the arrest or deportation of alleged seditionists. This led to the controversial "Palmer Raids," in which Hoover and his associates arrested and deported left-wing radicals, especially anarchists, from the United States.
In 1919, Hoover targeted Pan-African leader Marcus Garvey, naming him a "notorious negro agitator," and began searching for any evidence that would allow Garvey to be charged with a crime. In December of 1919, afraid of Garvey's growing influence, Hoover hired the first black agent in the Bureau's history: James Wormley Jones. Jones was sent to gather intelligence on Garvey, and the resulting information led Hoover and his group to sabotage Garvey's Black Star Line, a series of ships meant to transport goods between the black communities of North America, the Carribbean and Africa. As a result, Garvey's Black Star service went bankrupt, and the leader began entertaining thoughts of self-harm.
Advancing from assistant in 1921 to director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, Hoover emphasized modern technological investigative techniques, improved training, and obtained increased funding from Congress for the organization. During the 1930s, F.B.I. exploits against notorious gangsters, particularly John Dillinger, made Hoover a national hero. A string of high-profile gang arrests by the Bureau led to an expansion of power for the organization, and the Bureau became the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.
By the 1940s and 1950s, Hoover became well known for his anti-Communist and anti-subversive views and activities. In 1956, frustrated that the Justice Department was not allowed to prosecute and deport people for their political opinions, Hoover created the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. The group conducted a series of covert, and most often illegal, aimed at the dissolution and discrediting of radical political organizations.
Under the COINTELPRO label, Hoover attempted to disband any organizations that were considered subversive, including the Black Panthers, the Socialist Workers Party and the Ku Klux Klan.
Hoover was renowned for his vendettas, particularly against Martin Luther King, Jr. Naming him "the most dangerous Negro in the future of this nation," Hoover used COINTELPRO to initiate around the clock surveillance on King, hoping to find evidence of communism or sexual deviance. Using an illegal wiretap, Hoover was convinced he had proof of King's infidelitous behavior, and attempted to push reporters into publicizing the recording. The media refused. Instead, Hoover sent the tape directly to King's office, suggesting he commit suicide or face exposure.
COINTELPRO and its tactics remained a secret until it was revealed to the public in 1971. Its exposure resulted in some of the harshest criticism of Hoover and the FBI. Reports revealed that COINTELPRO's methods included infiltration, burglaries, illegal wiretaps, planted evidence, and false rumors. At its worst, some experts say the group also arranged the murders of certain suspects.
Though it is said that Presidents Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson each considered firing Hoover during their terms as President, it is also believed that Hoover had so much sensitive information about each leader that they were unable to remove him from office. Hoover also maintained strong support in Congress, possibly due to the intelligence he had gathered about individual politicians, and he remained director under every president from Coolidge to Nixon until his death, on May 2, 1972, in Washington, D.C. The FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. were named after Hoover, but because of the controversial nature of his legacy, there have been several proposals to rename it.