Clint Eastwood in his new movie J. Edgar artfully surfaced a well- guarded secret that the FBI czar who reigned over the bureau for 47 years was gay and involved in a long-term relationship with an aide.
Nevertheless there is yet another skeleton pounding on the closet to be let out.
Could J. Edgar Hoover also be African-American?
In some quarters this racial rumor has been whispered about as widely as Hoover’s sexuality. Eastwood’s avoidance of the issue adds intrigue to the movie’s main storyline. As Hoover was digging up dirt on presidents, spying and harassing civil rights leaders, he was cross-dressing and carrying on an affair with Clyde Tolson, the FBI’s number two man.
“Edgar Hoover was a black man passing for white,” says Millie McGhee, an African-American living in Southern Maryland, who has written two books Secrets Uncovered: J.Edgar Hoover-The Relative and Secrets Uncovered : J. Edgar Hoover Passing For White?
McGhee said: “In the late 1950s, I was a young girl growing up in rural McComb, Mississippi. A story had been passed down through several generations that the land we lived on was owned by the Hoover family. My grandfather told me that this powerful man, Edgar, was his second cousin, and was passing for white. If we talked about this, he was so powerful he could have us all killed. I grew up terrified about all this.”
But later as an educator and researcher she unearthed enough information by digging through altered court records, oral interviews with both white and black Hoovers and the help of licensed genealogists to substantiate the rumors she had heard as a child that Hoover was a relative. “Because of Edgar’s anti-black history, I am not proud of this lineage but history must be based on truth,” she said.
Author Anthony Summers, in his 1993 book Official and Confidential, said that he found that in some black communities in the East, it was generally believed Edgar had black roots and was even referred to as a “soul brother.” Writer Gore Vidal, who grew up in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s also said in an interview: “It was always said in my family and around the city that Hoover was mulatto. And that he came from a family that passed.”
McGhee said: “Since the movie has come out, so many people have asked me why my information about Hoover’s black roots was not included since my research is all over the Internet and I have made a documentary What’s Done In the Dark about our family.”
If only Eastwood had tackled this issue with the same vigor as the sexual theme, it could have garnered insight into Hoover’ well documented and complex obsession with destroying black leaders. Was this self-hatred or self preservation?
Hoover’s obsession with black groups dates back to the 1920’s when, as head of the precursor to the FBI, he targeted Marcus Garvey and his United Negro Improvement Association, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
Hoover sabotaged the Black Star Line, which was to transport blacks back to Africa, by throwing foreign matter into the fuel, according to historian Theodore Kornweibel. Garvey was later deported to Jamaica.
Hoover’s true colors showed when in the 1950s he verbally attacked interracial marriage, the NAACP and other civil rights groups while praising the White Citizens Council. In 1956, Hoover launched the FBI’s Cointelpro (Counter-Intelligence Program) where leaders of groups such as the Black Panther Party were gunned down with FBI involvement.
In the movie, a scene showed that shortly before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize, Hoover dictated a letter to King telling him to reject it because “he was not worthy.” That reprimand was based partly on tapes of a sexual liaison King had reported to have had in a hotel room that Hoover had bugged.
Hoover’s desire for King’s demise continued through illegal break-ins of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that King headed and wiretappings. After King was assassinated in 1968, conspiracy theorists maintained that Hoover was directly involved.
It is said that one of Hoover’s favorite adages was: “We must never forget our history. We must never lower our guard.” If Clint Eastwood had only lowered his guard, he would have allowed an important chunk of history to break through.
Dr. Barbara Reynolds is an ordained minister, author of six books and lecturer in various seminaries and universities. Her column will appear occasionally on www.therootdc.com.