1924 May 10

J. Edgar Hoover Appointed Head of Bureau of Investigation, Leads Assault on Civil Liberties


J. Edgar Hoover, a young 29 year-old official in the agency, was appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation by Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone. (The agency was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935.) On May 13, 1924, Stone directed Hoover to clean up the corrupt agency and also to end its spying on political groups. Hoover dutifully complied with these orders for about 12 years, until President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed Hoover to resume surveillance of political groups on August 24, 1936.

As director of the FBI from 1924 until his death, May 2, 1972, Hoover was arguably responsible for more violations of civil liberties than any other single individual in American history.

Two of the Bureau’s most notorious activities under Hoover were the COINTELPRO program (approved on March 8, 1956), and its effort to “neutralize” Dr. Martin Luther King, which was launched on December 23, 1963.

The full extent of Hoover’s violations of the rights of Americans was not known until the Senate Church Committee investigation in 1975–1976 (created on January 27, 1975). The COINTELPRO program was exposed when a group of anti-Vietnam War activists burglarized the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, on March 8, 1971, and stole over 1,000 documents, which they released to the press.

Read: Kenneth Ackerman, Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties (2007)

Examine FBI files released under FOIA: http://vault.fbi.gov/reading-room-index

Learn more: Athan Theoharis, The FBI & American Democracy: A Brief Critical History (2004)

And more: Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991)

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