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Monday, August 10, 2015

From Bigotry to Self-Hatred: Martin Luther King and J. Edgar Hoover

One of the saddest things I have ever read was Martin Luther King making love with a mistress, as recorded by J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, according to Taylor Branch, in volume Two of his King, like JFK, used womanizing as an anxiety reducer. One night in January 1964, in a Washington Hotel, Hoover recorded King shouting: "I'm f***ing for God. I'm not a negro tonight."

This is sad on so many levels, and I'm not talking about King's infidelity. First, of course, that King--a great man, a great soul, even if ever there was a great soul-- had so internalized our society's contempt for people of color, that self-hatred slipped out in a moment of intense intimacy.

Second, that J. Edgar Hoover so despised Martin Luther King that Hoover gleefully recorded King's private business.

The third point goes to J. Edgar Hoover's self-loathing.

We all know by now that Hoover was, if not an active homosexual, he was certainly one in his heart. His most intense relationship after his mother's death when he was 43. (he lived with her until then) was Clyde Tolsen, shown here on the left. Clyde was the FBI's number two man. For forty years, Tolsen and Hoover worked together, vacationed together, ate lunch together--often dressed in identical suits. Tolsen inherited Hoover's estate, and at their deaths, they were buried side by side.

According to Millie McGhee, though Hoover had another secret. McGhee, author of Secrets Uncovered, has worked with genealogists to under evidence that Hoover's family was "passing" for white.  "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."

McGhee's book, subtitled, "J. Edgar Hoover, Passing For White?" represents deep research into the strong oral tradition that J. Edgar Hoover's family were of mixed race, and had crossed the color line.

Apparently there were rumors within the city going pretty far back. In the 1930's, when Gore Vidal, was growing up in D.C., "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 interbreeding, 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.)

Wesley Swearingen, a former FBI Special Agent, from 1951 to 1977) said that Hoover's lack of a documented heritage was a mystery among FBI agents. Swearingen, who was the author of FBI Secrets: An Agent's Expose, said, "Because for all the FBI agents, they'd go back and check everything about your family, your relatives, and everything else, to make sure that they're squeaky clean. And here, the Director, and nobody knows really where he came from." Swearingen goes on:
Agents would get into topics like that where they were on 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, wiry hair, and speculation that maybe there was a little hanky-panky in his family. . . and then his facial characteristics were really unusual."

There is even indication that Hoover's Dickerson and  Naylor ancestors, through his paternal grandfather, were involved in a post-Civil War unground railroad of their own, used to help light-skinned blacks make the transition into white society. (Not that unusual, as some academic studies show that at least 23% of white Americans have an African-American element in their background.)

Hoover had a tough childhood, it seems. His father, (or unknowingly cuckolded stand-in for a father, according to McGhee) suffered from a mental illness that, in 1913, (when Hoover was 18) was described symptomatically as: withdrawal, long silences, erratic fears. From then until his death. Dickerson Naylor Hoover was in and out of a sanitarium, never recovering enough to hold down a job. And J. Edgar himself is described in earlier childhood as suffering from what sounds like severe separation anxiety.

One thing is certain, though. Hoover detested people of color, particularly successful ones.
Starting in 1919, he used lies and slander to arrest, attack and destroy Marcus Garvey. He was ruthless in his persecution of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Under his rule, the FBI refused to have "niggers," as he called them. When King was murdered, the Atlanta FBI office rang with cries of, "They got the SOB." 38 of those who were targeted by Hoover died under suspicious circumstances, including Black Panthers Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and  John Huggins, who were murdered by a member of a rival Black group in a fight that recently released Cointel Pro papers indicate was intentionally sparked by Hoover's minions.

So, here, thanks to one self-hating man, Hoover, we have a record of internalized hatred within another man, one I just hate to think of as self-hating. Yes, King gets to be human. I do not need him to be a plaster saint.

And for that matter, Hoover also winds up as human as they come, the gay man who could not think of himself as gay and the black man terrified of, and therefore furious about, anything to do with blackness.

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