The late D.C. City Councel member Julius W. Hobson, one of Washington's most widely known civil rights activists, maintained a confidential but ambiguous relationship with the FBI during the early and mid-1960s, providing agents with information about violence-prone groups and individuals as well as plans of his own organizations, according to FBI files.
The files, obtained by The Washington Post, designated Hobson usually as a "confidential source" and once as a "confidential informant" and said he was paid once for his work, receiving $100 and possibly $300. But other portions of the files described him as an undependable leftist radical who should be kept under surveillance.
Hobson, who died in 1977, once told reporters that he received $200 from the FBI, but denied passing information in exchange for it. Members of Hobson's family and activists close to Hobson interviewed over the past several weeks also disputed the characterization of Hobson as a "source" or "informant."
They said that Hobson either was "manipulating the FBI" with useless, false and exaggerated information or was negotiating openly with it and other law enforcement agencies about upcoming street demonstrations to minimize confrontation and violence. Such negotiations were common among some protect organizers at that time.
There is nothing in the file to indicate Hobson was an agent provocateur or that he betrayed the trust of activists organizing legal demonstrations.
There are 29 specific reports over a five-year period of Hobson giving information to agents contained in the massive 1,575-page file obtained by The Post through the Freedom assembled the file on Hobson over a nearly 20-year period from the 1950s to the early 1970s.
The file indicates, among other things, that Hobson gave the FBI information on advanced planning for the historic March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 and was paid $100 to $300 in expenses to monitor and report on civil rights demonstration plans at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.
On another occasion, he reported on a 1965 meeting in Detroit involving a revolutionary black group and, on still another, he warned agents of possible violence at a Philadelphia demonstration that same year, according to the file.
Only a small portion of the file relates to Hobson's function as a source or informant. The bulk consists of an accumulation of public and private data on the black activist -- his speeches and protect actions, his finances, educational and military background, his two marriages and other personal matters.
All of this was typical information gathered by agents on many political dissidents considered potentially dangerous during the tumultuous civil rights-antiwar era.
The Hobson file reflects the almost dual view the FBI maintained on him during that time. Some field agents in the Washington office viewed him as a helpful source and therefore a responsible citizen. But agents in other parts of the bureau was trying to establish that he was a radical firebrand bent on fomenting unrest and revolution.
On the one hand, for instance, the files show that Hobson told agents in May 1966 that he opposed establishment in Washington of a Chicago-based organization called Deacons for Defense and Justice because "it advocates arming its members."
On the other hand, the files show an unnamed informant told agents that at a July 26, 1968, meeting at the old Hotel Manager-Hamilton here, Hobson urged creation of a secret "trained scientific army to combat military forces of the United States."
The files are sprinkled with references to Hobson as a Marxist and communist. His public rhetoric ranged widely from calls for the overthrow of the capitalist system to administrations against mob action. Yet both his civil rights colleagues and FBI agents who knew him say that privately Hobson was opposed to violence and illegality.
"Julius abhorred violence," said retired FBI agent Elmer Lee Todd, who was one of Hobson's principal contacts in the 1960s. "The only time we contacted him was about groups and individuals that might be violent. . . . We never tried to interfere with him or steer him."
Todd and other agents said in interviews with The Post that Hobson may have incidentally told them about advance planning for legal demonstrations such as the March on Washington, but only in the context of determining if any illegal or disruptive elements might be involved.
A self-described socialist and a feisty activist, Hobson headed the Washington chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) in the early 1960s. He also led numerous attempts to integrate public facilities downtown and to open up suburban housing to blacks, and later pushed for statehood for the District of Columbia.
He was ousted from CORE in 1964 in a dispute over leadership and tactics and formed his own group called ACT. He also successfully sued the city to abolish the public school's pupil track system as racially discriminatory.
He served for a time on the D.C School Board and later, running on the Statehood Party ticket, was elected to an at-large seat on the D.C. City Councel in 1975. He died of cancer March 23, 1977, at the age of 54.
Hobson's widow, Tina, said that in Atlantic City, Hobson fabricated demonstration "plans," discussed them on a telephone he suspected the FBI had tapped and used the money the FBI gave him to bring other demonstrators to Atlantic City.
In an interview with the Post two years before his death, Hobson acknowledged receiving $200 from the FBI, but denied giving any information to agents.
But Todd, the agent who gave Hobson the money to go to the convention, says he spoke to Hobson "every day he was up there" and that Hobson tipped authorities off to a planned traffic tie-up and sit-in that local police then were able to avert.
Todd said he met regularly with Hobson -- sometimes as often as twice a month -- from about 1961 to late 1964, mostly to discuss and assess potentially violent or disruptive demonstrations, organizations and individuals in the civil rights movement.
"We'd visit him at HEW [where Hobson worked] and have a cup of coffee with him. . . He kept his eyes and ears open," Todd said. "In a couple of instances, he was beneficial. We were able to defuse a couple of things."
Todd said the FBI initiated most contacts with Hobson, "but sometimes he called us."
The total number of contacts was greater than that indicated in the file obtained by The Post, Todd said, since the reports on many remained in the field office and were later destroyed, rather than going to FBI headquarters where Hobson's central file was maintained.
Although Hobson's releationship was confidential, Todd stressed that he was not an "informant" in the sense that an informant is paid regularly and is available to carry out FBI assignments. "He was just a source we could go to," Todd said.
There is no indication in the file, which covers numerous contacts with agents from 1961 to mid-1966, that Hobson attempted to undermine legal political demonstrations. In some instances, the files show, Hobson said he would withdraw his support from protests he felt might become violent or otherwise illegal.
Ironically, hobson was one of several activists who filed a lawsuit against D.C. police and FBI agents in 1976, claiming law enforcement surveillance of their activities was, among other things, an unconstitutional invasion of their privacy.
[Hobson's name was dropped from the suit after he died in 1977. The case still has not gone to trial. Tina Hobson, another of the plaintiffs in the case, obtained a copy of her late husband's FBI file similar to that obtained by The Post and has made it available to attorneys in the lawsuit.]
According to the file, hobson was abruptly ordered dropped as a source or informant in June 1966 byu then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover after Hobson complained to the news media that FBI agents were badgering him for information about upcoming demonstrations.
While Hobson appears to have spoken publicly on occasion about the FBI, the extent and duration of his relationship with the FBI came to light only with disclosure of his bureau file.
In an Aug. 18, 1965, memo, for example, Hobson is quoted as giving information about planned protest actions by the NAACP and other groups against the then white-only Girard College in Philadelphia. Hobson indicated the actions might become violent.
"Hobson stated that he would attempt to convince [civil rights leader Stanley] Branche that a demonstratation would not be proper and have Branche convince [philadelphia NAACP chief Cecil] Moore that such a demonstration could cause a great deal of trouble," the memo said.
A more typical entry says: "Julius W. Hobson, WDC confidential source (protect identity) advised that he attended the OBP [Organization for Black Power] meeting held in Detroit, Mich., on 9/4-5/65 and that the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) of NYC had been invited. The meeting on 9/5/65 was presided over by Hobson and the topics were Vietnam and the U.S. poverty program. Later that day Hobson spoke at a street rally. . . ." (RAM, a short-lived radical splinter group that urged blacks to arm themselves, was an object of intense FBI interest.)
In the Atlantic City episode, FBI documents indicate that Hobson initially received $100 in expense money. In an urgent memo to the Washington field office on the eve of the convention, however, an FBI official said Hobson "had run out of maoney and had to leave Atlantic City . . . to return to Washington."
The agent urged that Hobson be given another $200 because he "had been furnishing important information concerning the meetings, plans and proposals for demonstrations of recial groups," including plans for traffic tie-ups, sit-ins and other civil disobedience.
Such information, the memo said, "would enable [local] authorities to block the plans of the group to carry through such actions."
The file does not indicate whether Hobson received the additional $200 or returned to Atlantic City.
Carol J. Smith, Hobson's first wife, who was married to him at the time, says she recalls going to Atlantic City with Hobson for the demonstrations, but was not aware of his relationship with the FBI or that he received any money.
She said she presumed Hobson went to participate in the nationally orchestrated protests against the all-white regular Mississippi delegation and to support the seating of the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation.
In a recent interview, Smith said she, Hobson and their two children regularly went to Atlantic City every summer for vacation, often sharing a rented house with another family.
In 1964, however, she and Hobson stayed briefly instead at a "flea-bitten motel" near the convention site because of the demonstrations, she said. They returned suddenly to Washington the day before the convention stated -- the same time the FBI says Hobson returned to Washington. She said he gave no reason. "He just scooped us up and said, 'Let's go,'" she recalled. She said they did not go back to Atlantic City.
She said the family had been "really strapped for money" earlier that summer, "and I thought it might be the one time we wouldn't make it to Atlantic City." But, she said, Hobson suddenly came up with some "new money" just before the convention and said, "Now we can go to Atlantic City."
If the money had come from the FBI, "He wouldn't have told me," Smith said. "He just didn't confide those things to me."
She said she knew little about his civil rights activities because he kept them separate from his family life. Tina Hobson, who married Julius several years after he and Carol Smith were divorced in 1968, said Hobson fabricated the disruption plans to "make the FBI overreact and discredit them."
"It gave Julius ego satisfaction to con the FBI," she said.
Both Tina Hobson and nearly a dozen former civil rights collegues of Julius interviewed referred repeatedly to his manipulative skills and penchant for trickery.
"It would be a game kind of thing, a maneuver," said Rowena Rand, former CORE official and now a probation officer in Gray, Ind.
Another CORE activist, who asked not to be named, recalled, for example, a protest demonstration led by Hobson at the Justic Department when Martin Luther King had been jailed in Alabama for civil rights activity.
"These two FBI agents came up to Julius, took him aside and talked to him for a few minutes," he said. "When Julius came back, he said they had asked him who organized the demonstration and he told them King had done it from his jail cell in Alabama. . . . He did that kind of thing."
None of the fomrer colleagues and family members interviewed -- except Tina Hobson -- said they were aware of Hobson's FBI relationship of his trip to Atlantic City. They contended he was not a "source or "informant" in the conventional sense.
All suggested that he deliberately cultivated the FBI in order to control information -- and occasionally "disinformation," as Tina Hobson put it -- going to the bureau to protect his own organizations and projects and occasionally to denigrate others.
By the same token, Tina Hobson acknowledge that he may have provided the FBI serious information from time to time, such as a warning of potential violence, as in the Girard College protests. Much of what he told them also could be obtained from the press and other public sources, she said.
Summing up Hobson's dual FBI-activist role, retired agent Todd said: "I have the highest respect for Julius. He did not betray any body. . . . There's no way he could have been a Communist. I knew him well, and he was a red-blooded American."