Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland


J. Edgar Hoover had black ancestors
Seán Mac Mathúna

Best site: The COINTELPRO Papers

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Cointelpro Revisited - Spying & Disruption


Armies of Repression: The FBI, COINTELPRO and Far Right Vigilante Networks

COINTELPRO: The Sabotage Of Legitimate Dissent

J. Edgar Hoover - who covered up his black ancestry

"Not all slave masters abused their slaves - Some actually treated them like family and bore children by them, like the Mississippi plantation owner, William Hoover. He had eight children by my Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Allen. One of those children was my Grandfather William Allen, and one was his brother, Ivery Hoover, who later had one son; J. Edgar." Millie McGhee, author of Secrets Uncovered, J Edgar Hoover - Passing For White?

A new book entitled Secrets Uncovered, J Edgar Hoover - Passing For White? has been published revealing that J Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI for most of its early history from 1924 until his death in 1972, had black ancestors. The author, Millie McGhee is an African-American who says she was told as a little girl in McComb, Mississippi, USA, of her familles links with Hoover, described by the author Edward Spannaus, his article The Mysterious Origins of J. Edgar Hoover as "one of the most virulent racists to hold a top government position" in the USA in the 20th century.

She says that her grandfather told of her of a "very powerful" man in Washington who was related to the family but did not want the links to be known and passed himself off as white. She reveals in her book that this man was Hoover, who was born in 1895, was apparently anxious that no one should know of his black origins.

McGhee, a former teacher in Los Angeles, contacted a genealogist in Salt Lake City, Utah, for help in tracing her family's history back over 200 years. Her research shows that Hoover's grandfather and great-grandfather lived in a segregated black area of Washington and were once classified in a census as "coloured". In the search of census records into the family of his father, Dickerson Naylor Hoover (who died in 1921 after a long illness) both the Hoover and Naylor families were living in areas of Washington D.C. - then itself a mostly segregated city - where blacks and whites were listed as living in close proximity. Some of the white Hoover families had blacks living with them, not as servants, but blacks being of the same occupation, such as "butcher'' or "clerk.'' There are also alterations and other oddities in a number of the Hoover family census records, and also in the racial listings which were then included in census records.

According to McGhee, her relatives were warned of "dire consequences" if they spoke publicly of his background. She said that as a little girl she believed that they would be killed if they mentioned the secret.

"Is this man so ashamed of his race that he would spend his whole life passing for white? . . . How has our race offended him ?"

She says that his obsession with the assassinated Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, stemmed in part from a repressed anger about his secret life. Apparently, although members of the Hoover family have contacted her and said that they are not angry about the disclosures, McGhee's own family were unhappy with her decision to go public, as, understandably, they never wanted to be associated with him.

According to Spannaus, apparently it was well-known both inside and outside the FBI, that there were rumours about Hoover's possible black ancestry - which were widespread during his long reign. There were also reports that Hoover deployed the FBI to track down who was behind rumours of his black ancestry - just as he did regarding rumours and reports about his homosexuality. The American writer Gore Vidal, who grew up in Washington, D.C. in the 1930s, told the writer Anthony Summers that when:

"Hoover was becoming famous, and it was always said of him - in my family and around the city - that he was mulatto. People said he came from a family that had "passed.' It was the word they used for people of black origin who, after generations of inbreeding, have enough white blood to pass themselves off as white. That's what was always said about Hoover.'' (Anthony Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993).

Summers also found evidence that blacks referred to Hoover as "some kind of spook'' and even "soul brother,'' and realized that in some black communities in the eastern part of the USA, it was generally believed that Edgar had black roots. Hoover's ancestry was always a subject of speculation within the FBI, because of his lack of documented heritage that was always required when someone joined the FBI. Wesley Swearingen, a former FBI Special Agent (from 1951 to 1977), and author of the 1995 book FBI Secrets: An Agent's Exposé, said that it was always viewed as a mystery the lack of documented evidence on Hoover's background:

"Because for all the FBI agents, they'd go back and check everything about your family, your relatives, and everything else, to make sure they're squeaky clean . . . and here, the Director, and nobody knows really where he came from . . . agents would get into topics like that where they on a surveillance or something, when they finished the crossword puzzle, and had nothing else to do, and they'd start talking about Hoover . . . all the agents would get onto the subject of his real tight hair, his tight, wirey hair, and speculation that maybe there was a little hanky-panky in his family . . . and then his facial characteristics were really unusual"

Spannaus has done excellent research himself, which along with McGhee, have also confirmed that there are substantial discrepancies concerning Hoover's early biography. He observes how:

Strikingly, there does not appear to be {any} contemporaneous record of Edgar's birth in Washington. Hoover's own autobiographical account - on which virtually all biographers have relied - states that he was born January 1, 1895, at his parents' home on Seward Square, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C., with a physician, Dr. Mallan, in attendance.

However, despite the fact that it was legally required to report a birth to the District of Columbia Health Department, and that this had been done for the first two children born in the family (Dickerson, Jr. and Lillian), there was no certificate of birth filed for Edgar by Dr. Mallan.

The entry for John Edgar Hoover in the Washington D.C. index of births was clearly added at a much later date, and the certificate number contains the suffix "D'' - signifying a delayed filing.

Thus Spannaus obtained a certified copy of Edgar's actual birth certificate - which was not filed until 1938, when Hoover was 43 years old ! The verification of birth is provided by an affidavit executed by Edgar's older brother Dickerson N. Hoover, Jr., who states that he was present when Edgar was born, and that he himself was 15 years old at the time. Oddly, Dickerson's affidavit does not mention a doctor being present, in contrast to Edgar's own account. He found out that, curiously, Hoover had never applied for a birth certificate until after his mother's death in February 1938. It seems obvious that his mother Annie Hoover - if she in fact was his mother - would have been by far the best witness, rather than a 15-year-old boy.

The writer Anthony Summers, described Hoover as "the offspring of a disturbed father and an ambitious mother.'' Apparently the relationship to his father, Dickerson Naylor Hoover, was virtually non-existent. He was never known to have ever spoken about his father even to his closest friends. His relationship with his mother however, was one of extreme dependency. As a child, he was described as "high-strung", "sickly", and even "excessively fearful'' by relatives. He was said to have a terror of separation from his mother, whom he lived with until her death in 1938. As Spannaus notes:

"Of course, were it the case that Edgar had already been separated from his real mother at an early age, and Annie Hoover was actually his adoptive or surrogate mother, this psychological profile would be entirely consistent with such a scenario"

Spannaus also found indications that his Dickerson and Naylor ancestors (through Hoover's paternal grandmother) were involved in a post-Civil War "underground railroad'' which was used to assist light-skinned blacks to make the transition from black society to white society. (An academic study cited in McGhee's book, reports that more than three-quarters of African-Americans have some white ancestry, and that at least 23% of white Americans have an African-American element in their background.)

Hoover's obsession with fighting those who were struggling for black liberation from was an state of apartheid in the USA up until the 1960's is well-known. For example, in 1956, in the wake of the US Supreme Court's decision to end segregation of black and white children in schools, Hoover fought with Attorney General Brownell over his proposals for new civil rights laws and enforcement provisions. Hoover declared that "the specter of racial intermarriage'' was behind the tensions over "mixed schooling,'' and he on one hand attacked the civil rights organizations, while defending and praising the racist and Ku Klux Klan supporting White Citizens Councils in the South. It was also in 1956 that Hoover launched the FBI's COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Programme) which targeted civil rights groups and leaders, among others. Hoover's FBI was literally an unofficial extension of the illegal racist groups that were burning down Black churches in the South and lynching Black people - At the time of Hoover's death in 1972, blacks still constituted less than 1% of FBI special agents. In the early 1960s, one FBI agent reported that:

"In about 90% of the situations in which Bureau personnel referred to Negroes, the word 'Nigger' was used and always in a very derogatory manner.'' (Richard Gid Powers, Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1987, p. 367).

While at George Washington University in 1917, Hoover had became active in what is politely called the "Southern Fraternity,'' the Kappa Alpha Order - according to Spannaus others have likened it to the "college auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan". His "official" mother, Annie Hoover was the honorary "housemother'' for Kappa Alpha at George Washington University, and Hoover remained active in it for the rest of his life. Many of his closest associates at the FBI were also Kappa Alpha members. Ironically, Hoover's remarkable career path would undoubtedly never have been possible, had it been known to have had black ancestry in his family background. In the decade of his birth, so-called Jim Crow laws were re-instituted through the South. Under the infamous Democratic Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (when Hoover began his career in the Justice Department), segregation was reinstituted throughout the Federal civil service, which had been exempted from Jim Crow laws. And under the prevailing "one drop'' rule, any amount of black blood or ancestry would exclude a person from most positions or careers - and certainly from high government positions.

Hoover had first waged a campaign against Marcus Garvey and the black nationalist movement from 1919 to 1923. He launched the infamous campaign to destroy Dr. Martin Luther King when in 1957, Hoover ordered the FBI to monitor King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, when it began a campaign to register eligible black voters in the racist South. Throughout his life in the 1960's before he was murdered by persons unknown suspected of working for the US government, the FBI ruthlessly targeted King. Thus, it is no surprise that when the news came through over the radio that King had been killed shot in Memphis on April 4th, 1968 there were jubilant cries of "They got the SOB!'' that reverberated through the Atlanta FBI office. One former FBI agent recalled another agent shouting "We finally got the son of a bitch!'' (Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, 1991, p. 606; Anthony Summers, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, 1993, p. 364). Hoover's FBI also waged an total war against other Black liberation figures such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers - 38 of whom were killed in suspicious circumstances.

It is clear that McGhee's book has contributed substantially to understanding the complex figure of J. Edgar Hoover - we can only wait and wonder now if the FBI will change it's official history to reflect a more accurate picture of his life and his time as the head of FBI when it ruthlessly attempted to crush the black liberation struggle. He is certainly a person who does not deserve to have public buildings and institutions named him.