Jeff Mordock, Washington Times, October 28, 2019
Black lawmakers want to strip J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the proposed new FBI headquarters because they think he was a racist, outraging longtime agents who say America’s culture of political correctness and victimhood has gone too far.
“J. Edgar Hoover was an abomination on our history,” said Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “I think they should find a name more reputable than J. Edgar Hoover. I mean, all that came out about him after his death: the way he threatened people, what he did in the African American community, what he did to Martin Luther King, what he did to the LGBT community, I could go on and on.”
But former agents say the legacy of the FBI’s first and longest-serving director has been unfairly demonized. They say Hoover’s civil rights record is solid and cite his willingness to send FBI agents to the South to help blacks vote and his opposition to Japanese internment camps during World War II.
Since his death in 1972, Hoover’s legacy has been mixed. Critics say he harassed civil rights leaders, discriminated against gay federal workers and amassed incriminating evidence to blackmail political figures. His supporters point to his extraordinary efforts to modernize law enforcement. Creating the FBI’s fingerprint database and bringing forensic science into criminal investigations are among his accomplishments.
Determined to prove the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was under the influence of communists, the FBI kept the civil rights leader under constant surveillance from the mid-1950s until his 1968 assassination. Although FBI wiretaps did not uncover communist ties, the bureau did discover lurid details about King’s sex life.
Historians have suggested Hoover spied on King to discredit him and derail the civil rights movement. Tens of thousands of FBI documents released years ago detail the bureau’s animosity toward the civil rights leader. One memo describes King as an “unprincipled opportunistic individual,” and another calls him “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.”
“J. Edgar Hoover’s legacy of counterintelligence programs was very disruptive to African American leadership in the black community along with other minority communities,” said Rep. Andre Carson, Indiana Democrat, who said he contacted the FBI years ago about changing the name of its headquarters.
In 1964, Hoover called King “the most notorious liar in the country,” which led to a meeting between the two. Andrew King, a longtime aide of King, has publicly stated that there “was not even an attitude of hostility” during the meeting.
Mr. Brannon said Hoover got an unfair rap for spying on the civil rights leader and noted that the wiretap warrants were approved by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Previous efforts to remove Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters gained little traction. Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat, introduced legislation to expunge Hoover’s name in 2015, but the measure didn’t go anywhere. A year later, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, wrote to the General Services Administration saying it would be a mistake to name a new building after the controversial director.
Former agents said the FBI would be turning its back on the agency’s history if it abandons the Hoover name.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who spoke with The Washington Times were largely opposed to keeping Hoover’s name.
“Hell, no,” said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, Louisiana Democrat.
But one Congressional Black Caucus member, Rep. Val Butler Demings, Florida Democrat, said it should be up to the agents to decide whether the bureau will continue to honor Hoover.