African Americans, who had been systematically oppressed from the very beginning of their time in the United States, were calling more and more loudly for freedom and equality in the mid-twentieth century. Compounded with the fear and hatred of communism was also a fear of black Americans ascending to the same societal plane as white Americans, especially among individuals and groups of people who held racist views and had reservations about equality between blacks and whites.
One of the groups of people who seemed to have reservations about such a concept was the United States’ own Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), particularly under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, during the Cold War. These reservations are evident in many of the surveillance files compiled for African Americans by the Bureau during the middle of the century. At the time, The FBI was an inherently racist and reactionary organization that targeted African American activists and artists from the very beginnings of movements for freedom and equality, treating them unjustly in an effort to maintain a status quo that thrived on racially based power dynamics. However, despite its reactionary behavior towards certain African Americans, such as Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, and Paul Robeson—all deemed “radical”—the Bureau effectively gave them no choice but to empower themselves. Although it is no excuse for racism and oppression, the FBI’s unfair treatment, while utterly despicable, ultimately gave the artists a platform on which to overcome hardship, bolstering their publicity and legacies, which has made their work even more poignant than it may have otherwise been.
"On the Reactionary Treatment of American Radicals By J. Edgar Hoover's FBI,"
Student Projects from the Archives: Vol. 2
, Article 7.
Available at: https://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/spa/vol2/iss1/7