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John Edgar Hoover

John Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was appointed assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1921, and director in 1924; he was the popular (and then controversial) director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1935 until his death in 1972, at age 77.

J. Edgar Hoover was born into a Scottish Presbyterian family of civil servants in Washington, D.C. on New Year's Day, 1895; his mother called him Edgar from the day he was born. He was a leader of the student cadet corps in high school, and a champion debater. He taught Sunday school at Old First Presbyterian Church. His life-long guiding principles were formed early: he was convinced that middle-class Protestant morality was at the core of American values, and he harbored a deep distrust of alien ideas and movements that called those values into question.

Working days and attending school at nights, Hoover earned his Bachelor of Law degree with honors from George Washington University in 1916. He excelled in mock court proceedings. In 1917 he earned a Master of Law degree and got a job with the Alien Enemy Bureau in the Department of Justice, administering the regulations governing the hundreds of thousands of German and Austro-Hungarian aliens interned or supervised by the department. In response to a series of bombings in the spring of 1919, supposedly carried out by radicals, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer decided to concentrate on aliens, since they could be deported summarily and wholesale, without due process, and in 1920 he put the 24-year-old Hoover in charge of the operation. Within a short period of time, Hoover had written briefs arguing that alien members of the new American Communist and Communist Labor parties were subject to deportation under the immigration laws; planned a raid on the headquarters of the Union of Russian Workers; and put Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and 247 other "radicals" on a ship for the Soviet Union. A few days later, Hoover led a nationwide operation which arrested more than four thousand alien Communists.

While civil libertarians deplored the Justice Department's tactics and treatment of prisoners, Hoover had established his reputation as an organizational genius. In 1921, he was appointed assistant director of the Bureau of Investigation. Three years later, when the bureau had become known as "the most corrupt and incompetent agency in Washington, " Hoover was appointed Acting Director by a new Attorney General, Harlan Fiske Stone (later Associate Justice, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court). Hoover took the job under the conditions that he would tolerate no political meddling and that he wanted sole control of merit promotions. Stone agreed. Almost immediately, the new director instituted new personnel policies; he fired agents he considered unqualified, abolished promotions based on seniority, introduced uniform performance appraisals, and laid out strict rules of conduct (including instructions that forbade the use of intoxicating beverages, on or off the job). He established new lines of authority (all regional officers were to report directly to Hoover) and did whatever he could to create power for his agency. At the time, for example, the Bureau had jurisdiction over little more than car-thefts. Agents were not allowed to carry firearms until 1934, and they did not have the power of arrest. Law enforcement was a state activity, not a federal one. Gradually, Hoover professionalized the organization and freed it from the taint of corruption. He was a pioneer in the areas of personnel training, the use of scientific laboratory techniques, accurate reporting, and filing large volumes of material. By 1926, state law enforcement agencies began contributing their fingerprint cards to the Bureau of Investigation. Early on, Hoover laid the foundation for a world-class crime fighting organization.

During this period, Hoover still maintained his card file of over 450, 000 names of "radicals" and worked on building the bureau "his way, " but the agency slumbered through the violence of the Roaring Twenties. It took the Lindbergh kidnapping in 1932 to convince Congress that there was a need for national legislation authorizing the Federal government to act against crimes of violence on other than government reservations; companion legislation between 1932 and 1934 augmented that authority, and the FBI (so named in 1935) was in business, chasing down the likes of Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, Ma Barker and her sons, and John Dillinger.

Hoover was famous for his successes in public relations, legend-building and image-making his Bureau into a Hollywood extravaganza, firmly entrenched as a mainstay of popular culture through films, comic strips, books, and carefully orchestrated publicity campaigns. The FBI and its director became dear to the hearts of the American people and Hoover himself became a hero of almost mythic proportions. But during most of the 1930s, Hoover was relatively obscure, merely the head of just one of several investigatory agencies. In the art of public relations, Hoover was the beneficiary of Franklin Roosevelt's Attorney General Homer Cummings, who between 1933 and 1937 developed a massive, multi-front public relations campaign to make law enforcement a national movement wholly dependant on public support for its success in dealing with the gangsters of the Depression era. When Cummings suffered political decline, Hoover now head of the nation's only national law enforcement agency adopted many of his methods, always looking for new public enemies to protect the nation against. In the coming years, these were to include Nazi spies, Communists, Black Panthers, the New Left, and Martin Luther King, Jr. As for law enforcement, Hoover mostly abandoned it altogether after 1936.

After World War II Hoover took from the growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union a mandate to prepare for domestic sabotage and subversion, and to round up Communists, siding with such anti-Communists as Richard M. Nixon and Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. He pursued the investigation of Alger Hiss that discredited the domestic security policies of the Truman Administration; he uncovered the alleged atom spy conspiracy of Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (who were subsequently executed as traitors); and his Bureau provided the evidence for the Smith Act convictions of the top leadership of the American Communist Party (later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court).

During the late 1950s, Hoover developed a counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) to covertly harass the remnants of the American Communist Party. In the 1960s he extended the program to harass and disrupt the Ku Klux Klan, the black militant movement and the antiwar movements, particularly targeting the Black Panthers and the Students for a Democratic Society. Now into his 70s, Hoover extended his defense of "Americanism" with public attacks on Martin Luther King, Jr., and two attorneys general Robert Kennedy and Ramsey Clark. His tactic in all cases included illegal wiretapping and microphone surveillance.

During all these years, Hoover managed to overlook organized crime. Robert Kennedy became a thorn in Hoover's side when he demonstrated otherwise as assistant counsel on the Kefauver committee's investigations into organized crime. Hoover ignored political corruption and white collar crime. Most of his work was political, in two senses of the word. First, he target individuals, groups, and movements which offended his moral sense. Second, he collected compromising information provided by his agents on all sorts of public officials. The fact that he had such information in his personal files or was merely thought to have such information was enough to sway congressional votes in favor of FBI appropriations requests and to keep presidents from removing him from office, even long after mandatory retirement age. The perception of "such information" worked both ways, however. It was long thought that Hoover denied the existence of organized crime because certain Mafia figures had photographs and other documentation of Hoover's alleged and widely-believed homosexuality. However, nothing could be proved, as after his death, Hoover's secretary obeyed instructions that all his personal files be burned.

J. Edgar Hoover died in May, 1972, still the Director of the FBI, and became the only civil servant to be honored with a state funeral. Post-Watergate investigations of the FBI's abuses of civil liberties under Hoover and recent releases of FBI files under the Freedom of Information Act (including files his secretary missed) have destroyed Hoover's reputation. Recent scholarly works have asserted that Anthony Summers book (1993), exposing Hoover's homosexuality, was based on slender and dubious evidence. Other works have also shown the FBI's ineffectiveness in pursuing organized-crime figures had little to do with Hoover's vulnerability, but rather from his lack of accountability, his use of illegal investigative techniques, and his obsessive focus on his own political agenda. J. Edgar Hoover's methods contributed substantially to a culture of lawlessness in the FBI itself. Within a few years of his death, public opinion about Hoover had shifted to the point that his name by itself conjured up the image of a government at war with the rights and liberties of its citizens.

Further Reading

Hoover's own writings Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How To Fight It (1958) and J. Edgar Hoover on Communism (1969) were written for him by FBI publicists. The book that purports to expose Hoover's private life, Anthony Summers' Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993), was not highly regarded even by Hoover's critics. Richard Gid Powers G-Men: Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture (1983); Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox The Boss J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition (1988); and Ronald Kessler The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency (1993) are useful works, as is the older "oral biography" by Ovid Demaris The Director: An Oral Biography of J. Edgar Hoover. Scholars will want to see three microfilm collections of documents edited by Athan Theoharis, The J. Edgar Hoover Official and Confidential File (1996); FBI Wiretaps, Bugs, and Break-Ins: The National Security Electronic Surveillance Card File and the Surreptitious Entries File (1996); and The Louis Nichols Official and Confidential File and the Clyde Tolson Personal File (1996). See also Alan Theoharis J. Edgar Hoover, Sex, and Crime: An Historical Antidote (1995); Alan Theoharis From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1993); Richard Gid Powers, Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1993); Mark North, Act of Treason: The Role of J. Edgar Hoover in the Assassination of President Kennedy (1992); Curt Gentry J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets (1992); Nelson Blackstock, COINTELPRO: The FBI's Secret War on Political Freedom (1988); Ward Churchill and James Vander Wall's two books, The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (1990); and Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret War Against the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party (1990). □

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Hoover, John Edgar

HOOVER, JOHN EDGAR

John Edgar Hoover served from 1924 to 1972 as the director of the federal bureau of investigation (FBI). During his long tenure, Hoover built the FBI into a formidable law enforcement organization, establishing standards for the collection and evaluation of information that made the FBI an effective crime fighting agency. However, Hoover's reputation was tarnished by his collection of damaging information on prominent politicians and public figures for his personal use, and by his aggressive investigation of civil rights leaders and left-wing radicals.

Hoover was born January 1, 1895, in Washington, D.C. Following graduation from high school, he turned down a scholarship from the University of Virginia, electing to stay home and study law at night at George Washington University. In 1916 he received a bachelor of laws degree. In 1917 he added a master of laws degree. Upon graduation from college, Hoover joined the U.S. justice department.

"We are a fact-gathering organization only. We don't clear anybody. We don't condemn anybody."
—J. Edgar Hoover

Hoover started in a minor position, but his intelligence, energy, and mastery of detail were quickly noticed by his superiors. By 1919 he had risen to the rank of special assistant attorney general. During these early years, Hoover first became involved with the suppression of political radicals, assisting Attorney General A. mitchell palmer in the arrest and deportation of left-wing aliens. In 1919 he was appointed

chief of the department's General Intelligence Division (GID), a unit designated by Palmer to hunt down radicals. Within three months Hoover collected the names of 150,000 alleged subversives. Armed with this information, federal agents conducted nationwide dragnets, arresting more than ten thousand people. Critics argued that these Palmer Raids violated civil liberties. Nevertheless, thousands of persons were deported. By 1921 the GID had nearly half a million names of persons suspected of subversive activities.

In 1924 Hoover was appointed acting director of the Bureau of Investigation (BI), the fore-runner of the FBI. The BI was a weak agency, hampered by limited investigatory powers, the inability of its agents to carry weapons, and the swelling of its rank with political appointments. After several scandals revealed the extent of the BI's problems, Attorney General harlan f. stone appointed Hoover to clean up the agency.

Though only twenty-nine, Hoover met the challenge head-on. He began a thorough reorganization of the bureau, imposing strict discipline on his employees. Hoover's goal was to establish a professional law enforcement agency of unquestioned integrity. Between 1924 and 1935, he introduced a series of innovations that changed national law enforcement. Hoover established a national fingerprint collection, the first systematic database that federal, state, and local agencies could use to match fingerprints at crime scenes with those on file at the bureau. He also created a crime laboratory, which developed scientific procedures for obtaining forensic evidence. Finally, Hoover made a point of changing the character of his agents. He established a training academy for new agents, who were selected on the basis of their qualifications, not on their political connections. Agents were required to be college educated and to maintain the highest standard of personal and professional ethics.

As the agency became more professional, its jurisdiction increased. In 1935 President franklin d. roosevelt signed crime bills giving agents the authority to carry guns and make arrests, and in the same year, the bureau officially became the FBI. During the 1930s Hoover moved from internal reorganization to external promotion of himself and his agency. The gangster era, from 1920 to 1935, ended in the arrest or killing of well-publicized hoodlums such as John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde. Hoover and his G-men were celebrated for these exploits in newspapers, radio, newsreels, and Hollywood movies, establishing Hoover as the nation's leading crime fighter.

Hoover's focus shifted to political subversion and foreign espionage during world war ii.

Again, the FBI was celebrated in the news media and popular culture, this time for tracking down Nazi saboteurs and spies. With the end of World War II and the beginning of the cold war with the Soviet Union, Hoover directed his efforts at rooting out Communist subversives. Harkening back to his early work with Palmer, Hoover's zealousness for this task led him to make alliances with the House Un-American Activities Committee; anti-Communist politicians such as Representative richard m. nixon, of California, and Senator joseph r. mccarthy, of Wisconsin; and members of the news media who were eager to print Hoover's inside information.

During the 1950s Hoover concentrated on anti-Communist initiatives, ignoring calls to investigate the growth of organized crime. He published Masters of Deceit (1958), a book that articulated his views on what he perceived to be the Communist conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. He established the FBI's Counterintelligence Program (cointelpro) to disrupt the U.S. Communist party and to discredit its members through informants, disinformation, and anonymous letters and telephone calls. He also enlisted the cooperation of the internal revenue service to conduct selective tax audits of people he suspected of being Communists. Critics of Hoover argued—and continue to argue—that he went beyond law enforcement in these efforts, using so-called dirty tricks to undermine the reputation of persons he believed to be subversive.

Despite these charges Hoover remained a powerful federal official. His use of wiretaps on phones, and of other forms of electronic surveillance, provided him with a wealth of information on the private affairs of many prominent political figures. Hoover shared some of this information with his political allies, but much of it remained in his private files. Over time many politicians came to fear Hoover, who they believed might have incriminating information about them that could destroy their political careers. Armed with these files, Hoover enjoyed immense power in the 1950s and 1960s.

With the birth of the modern civil rights movement, Hoover discovered what he considered another subversive group. He became convinced that martin luther king, jr., was a pawn of the Communist conspiracy. He had agents follow King and record sexual encounters in various hotel rooms. King's southern christian leadership conference offices were wiretapped and burglarized by the FBI many times, all in the hope of finding information that would discredit King. Though Hoover's efforts proved futile, they demonstrated his ability to use the FBI as his personal tool.

During the 1960s Hoover also had the FBI investigate the ku klux klan and other white supremacist groups. The same techniques used against King and other alleged subversives were also employed against right-wing radicals who threatened physical violence. And with the growth of opposition to the vietnam war in the 1960s, Hoover targeted war protesters.

Presidents lyndon b. johnson and Richard M. Nixon allowed Hoover to serve past the mandatory retirement age. During his last years, Hoover was criticized for his authoritarian administration of the FBI. Agents who displeased him could be banished to an obscure FBI field office or discharged. Perhaps most troubling was his refusal to investigate organized crime with the same resources expended on politically subversive organizations.

Hoover died May 2, 1972, in Washington, D.C.

further readings

Gentry, Curt. 1991. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets. New York: Norton.

Powers, Richard G. 1987. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: Free Press.

Wannall, Ray. 2000. The Real J. Edgar Hoover: For the Record. Paducah, Ky.: Turner Pub.

cross-references

Communism; Forensic Science.

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Hoover, J. Edgar

Hoover, J. Edgar 1895-1972

BIBLIOGRAPHY

John Edgar Hoover was born in Washington, D.C., on January 1, 1895, and died there on May 2, 1972. He served as director of the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (BOI)known after 1935 as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)from 1924 until his death. During his long tenure he greatly expanded the bureau, giving to it much of its modern identity, but he was also the focus of a great deal of controversy because of his autocratic leadership style and his frequent abuses of power in the name of fighting subversion.

After earning a law degree from George Washington University in 1917, Hoover joined the Justice Department during World War I (19141918), working in (and briefly heading) its Enemy Aliens Registration Section. Two years later he was chosen as head of the newly established General Intelligence Division of the Justice Department. In this capacity, he was involved in the Palmer Raids (19191920), during the course of which U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (18721936) ordered the arrest of thousands of radical political figures, violating their civil rights, and deporting hundreds who were not U.S. citizens. Hoovers role in this effort eventually led to his appointment by President Calvin Coolidge as the sixth director of the Bureau of Investigation in May of 1924.

As director of the BOI, Hoover expanded the bureaus staff. He also modernized its methods of conducting criminal investigations by, among other things, establishing what would become the FBI Laboratory and amassing, in the bureaus Identification Division, an enormous collection of criminals fingerprints. The bureau rose to prominence during what is often referred to as the lawless decade of the 1920s, and during the 1930s it engaged in a number of high-profile battles with such famous criminals of the Depression era as John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis, Bonny Parker and Clyde Barrow, and Machine Gun Kelly. After its name change to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935, the bureau became increasingly a part of the American vocabulary.

During World War II (19391945) the bureau played an important role in domestic surveillance, and its efforts led to the capture of a number of Nazi agents and saboteurs working undercover in the United States. In the years following the war, however, Hoovers war against subversion took a more controversial turn. During the late 1940s and early 1950s he became deeply involved in the anti-Communist movement known popularly as McCarthyism after the reckless, witch hunt methods of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin (19081957). In the name of rooting out Communist subversion, Hoover authorized illegal wiretapping and spying on thousands of suspected Communists. In the second half of the 1950s he expanded his area of concern to the emerging civil rights movement, which he also believed to be subversive in character. He sought to discredit the work of the early civil rights leader T. R. M. Howard (19081976), and later made similar efforts against Martin Luther King Jr.

Hoover served during the administrations of eight presidents, and while several of these individualsespecially Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixonfelt that he had grown too powerful, none was able or willing to remove him from office, due in part to his and the FBIs near-iconic status in the mind of the average American. Celebrations of the FBI in American popular culture that contributed to this status included a long-running radio program (The FBI in Peace and War, 19441958), a popular television series (The F.B.I., 19651974), and a 1959 film, The FBI Story, starring the well-known Hollywood actor James Stewart. Hoover himself was the author of several books, among them the best-selling Masters of Deceit: The Story of Communism in America and How to Fight It (1958).

Hoovers management style at the bureau was highly autocratic, and he was greatly feared by those who worked for him. Following his death in 1972, Clyde Tolson (19001975), his longtime friend and associate FBI director, succeeded him as director.

In the years following Hoovers death the controversies surrounding his life and career have continued to grow. Among them, suggestions of homosexuality (in Anthony Summerss Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover [1993]) and possible African American ancestry (in Millie McGhees Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar HooverPassing for White? [2000]) have rendered particularly ironic Hoovers use of information regarding sexual orientation as a means of attacking or intimidating political opponents and his strong opposition to the postwar civil rights movement.

SEE ALSO Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Communism; Crime and Criminology; King, Martin Luther, Jr.; McCarthyism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Garrow, David J. 1981. The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr.: From Solo to Memphis. New York: W. W. Norton.

McGhee, Millie L. 2000. Secrets Uncovered: J. Edgar HooverPassing for White? Rancho Cucamonga, CA: Allen-Morris.

Powers, Richard Gid. 1983. G-Men: Hoovers FBI in American Popular Culture. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Summers, Anthony. 1993. Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover. New York: G. P. Putnams Sons.

Theoharis, Athan G., and John Stuart Cox. 1988. The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Scott Wright

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Hoover, J. Edgar

Hoover, J. Edgar

AMERICAN
GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL

For more than forty-five years, J. Edgar Hoover served as the director of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI ). Under Hoover's leadership, the bureau gained responsibility and importance within the U.S. government. A proponent of forensic investigation techniques, Hoover established the FBI's national fingerprint depository and crime laboratory. Hoover is also known for his aggressive anti-Communist and anti-radical actions and illegally investigating suspected individuals with wiretaps and surveillance.

Born in Washington, D.C., Hoover was active in the cadet corps and debate team in high school. He attended George Washington University, earning bachelor and master's degrees in law in 1916. In 1917, he joined the U.S. Department of Justice, working in the General Intelligence Division. When his division was moved to the FBI (at that time known as the Bureau of Investigation) in 1921, Hoover became the assistant director there.

Hoover became the director of the FBI in 1924, a position he would hold until his death in 1972. At the time, the FBI had been undergoing much criticism for a number of scandals under the previous administration. With Hoover in charge, the bureau rid itself of unqualified special agents, and implemented a new hiring process that selected only high-quality candidates. Hoover also ordered the creation of a crime laboratory, one that would provide forensic analysis on investigations across the country. In addition, he made the bureau's new fingerprint collection a national resource. The FBI thus became well known across the country, in particular because of its high-profile pursuit of gangsters like John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson. Hoover was honored for his contributions to the field of forensic science in 1959, when he was given the John A. Dondero Award from the International Association for Identification .

Over the course of his career, Hoover also became known for his relentless pursuit of Communists and other politically radical groups. He publicly attacked such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and Ramsey Clark, and, in the privacy of the bureau, arranged such illegal investigative measures as wiretapping, surveillance, and the use of informers. Knowledge of some of these activities didn't become public until after Hoover's death in 1972.

see also Bugs (microphones) and bug detectors; Careers in forensic science; FBI Crime Laboratory.

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Hoover, J. Edgar

J. Edgar Hoover (John Edgar Hoover), 1895–1972, American administrator, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), b. Washington, D.C. Shortly after he was admitted to the bar, he entered (1917) the Dept. of Justice and served (1919–21) as special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. In this capacity he directed the so-called Palmer Raids against allegedly radical aliens. Director of the Bureau of Investigation (renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935) after 1924, Hoover built a more efficient crime-fighting agency, establishing a centralized fingerprint file, a crime laboratory, and a training school for police. During the 1930s, to publicize the work of his agency in fighting organized crime, he participated directly in the arrest of several major gangsters. After World War II, Hoover focused on the perceived threat of Communist subversion. In office until his death, he became increasingly controversial. His many critics considered his anticommunism obsessive, and it has been verified that he orchestrated systematic harassment of political dissenters and activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoover accumulated enormous power, in part from amassing secret files on the activities and private lives of political leaders and their associates. After his death reforms designed to prevent these abuses were undertaken. His writings include Persons in Hiding (1938), Masters of Deceit (1958), and A Study of Communism (1962).

See biographies by T. G. Powers (1987), A. G. Theoharis (1988), and C. Gentry (1991); D. J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1981); K. O'Reilly, Hoover and the Un-Americans (1983); A. G. Theoharis and J. S. Cox, The Boss (1988); B. Burrough, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34 (2004).

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Hoover, J. (John) Edgar

Hoover, J. (John) Edgar (1895–1972) US administrator, director (1924–72) of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Hoover reorganized the Bureau, compiling a vast file of fingerprints and building a crime laboratory. During the 1930s, he fought organized crime. After World War II, he concentrated on what he saw as the threat of communist subversion, harassing public figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAhooverE.htm; http://fbi.gov/hoover.htm

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