Mar 24, 2022 - Sale 2598

Sale 2598 - Lot 180

Price Realized: $ 16,250
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 2,000 - $ 3,000
(CIVIL RIGHTS.) J. Edgar Hoover. Letter defending the FBI's civil rights record in the wake of the Emmett Till lynching. Letter Signed as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to Thurgood Marshall. 3 typed pages, 10 1/2 x 7 3/4 inches; mailing folds, two punch holes in upper margins, inked date stamp. Washington, 30 September 1955

Additional Details

This letter was written in the context of the Emmett Till lynching, which had just taken place on 28 August. On 25 September, civil rights leader Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard addressed a meeting of the Baltimore NAACP regarding the lynching and other recent killings, wondering why "Southern investigators of the FBI can't seem to solve a crime where a Negro is involved," and demanding that national leaders including "J. Edgar Hoover himself" be called to account for these failings in a public forum.

This inspired Hoover to write to Thurgood Marshall, who was then the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, "to set the record straight." Hoover and Marshall had a well-known working relationship which approached something like a friendship.

Hoover's reputation for intimidation and anti-Communist paranoia is not on display in this letter. Instead, Hoover explains the chain of command between his FBI and the Department of Justice, notes that he had no jurisdiction in the Till case, and describes at length two recent cases where the FBI succeeded in bringing Ku Klux Klan chapters to trial. He also implies credit for a dramatic reduction in lynchings over the past decade from 65 to 16, and notes that the nation had seen no lynchings in 1952, 1953, or 1954. He asks Marshall, given his greater understanding of the FBI's role in these investigations, to issue a public correction on behalf of the NAACP to Howard's anti-FBI charges.

Accompanying this letter is a 24 September 2004 letter by Jack Greenberg, who worked under Marshall with the Legal Defense Fund, and later succeeded him as its head. In Greenberg's analysis of Hoover's letter, he recounts several of the prominent cases of that period including the Till case, and adds that "the civil rights community . . . believed that the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as the FBI, was doing hardly anything to put an end to that violence." Greenberg appended photocopies of 3 related Hoover letters at the Library of Congress dated 6 September, 13 September, and 11 October 1955. Writing to a White House official, Hoover dropped his veneer of gentle persuasion and reported his findings that the Emmett Till protests were a Communist plot to create unrest. Greenberg points out Hoover's "unintentionally comic references to the Marcus Garvey 'Back-to-Africa' movement that could have no conceivable relevance to any of the events and issues of the mid-twentieth century." Provenance: Greenberg's adopted son William Cole, who discusses it in his book "A Jack Greenberg Lexicon," pages 108-9.