John Edgar Hoover, upon getting his LL.M. Degree, was hired by the Justice Department to work in the War Emergency Division at 22.
He moved from the Division’s Alien Enemy Bureau to the Bureau of Investigation’s new General Intelligence Division in 1919.
In 1921, Hoover rose in the Bureau of Investigation to the deputy-head and, in 1924, the Attorney General made him the acting director. On May 10, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Hoover as the fifth Director of the Bureau of Investigation.
He was instrumental in founding the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935, where he remained director for another 37 years until his death in 1972 at the age of 77.
Hoover has been credited with building the FBI into a larger crime-fighting agency bringing it up to speed with technology.
“Later in life and after his death, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive abuses of power began to surface. He was found to have exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI and to have used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods. Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten others, including sitting presidents of the United States.”
None felt the wrath of Hoover more than black nationalists.
Hoover was a very young ambitious and unprincipled attorney. One of his first tasks involved destroying the mass revolutionary Pan-Africanist movement led by Marcus Garvey. He led a tactic of disruption, surveillance, and use of the law to destroy legitimate social protest movements.
Historian Robert Hill notes that Hoover put black radical movements under surveillance, adding he was the point man used to monitor and amass enormous file systems on the notable people and organizations.
One of his earliest cases was his pursuit of Marcus Garvey who was living in the United States as leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association Organization. His hounding will lead to the U.S. government deporting Garvey in 1927.
“He had a partial thing in pursuing black leaders,” Hill asserted, adding “it was partly psychological, partly social and partly because of his strange sense of morality.”
By the 1960s, Hoover had used his Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to destabilize several organizations in the civil rights struggle.
Historian Kwaku Parson-Lynn notes that from Garvey to Martin Luther King, Jr. and from any black organization, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes, the FBI deployed its surveillance resources on them.
“Martin, Stokely Carmichael, Robert J. Brown, Angela Davis were getting mass coverage in the press. Their influence was carrying over to the white youth. This Psychological influence according to Hoover was dangerous,” Parson-Lynn said.
The FBI’s COINTELPRO will take a heavy toll on the Black Power Movement particularly the young members of the Black Panther Party.
According to Sam Anderson, at every chapter, there was at least an informant and provocateur who will be in the group to agitate and confuse.
The history holds that the FBI caused a split in the Panther Party across the East and West coasts when it wrote and sent unsavory letters to party leaders on each side purported to have come from within.
While white Americans hold Hoover in high esteem, his impact on black leaders and on progressive black organizations has been negative. He destroyed civil rights and liberties using state-sponsored terrorism.