Law Enforcement’s Double Standards for Black Radical ActivistsRoundup
tags: racism, radicalism, policing
Dr. Denise Lynn is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern Indiana. Her research centers on women in the American Communist Party during the Popular Front. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLynn13.
Many Americans were appalled to watch the Donald Trump inspired coup attempt against Congress. That Trump instigated his followers and encouraged them to employ violence was not the surprise, what many observed was how seemingly easy it was for the rioters to attack the Capitol building, gain access to private offices, then walk away with police watching. In the days following, the FBI asked the public to help identify the invaders on social media in hopes that they could bring charges. It was a total failure by security and law enforcement and once again revealed the FBI’s inadequate response to white supremacist terrorism. In contrast, the FBI has actively and aggressively monitored left-wing and Black organizations (most recently labeling Black Lives Matter “Black identity extremists”), harassed and interfered with their planning, kept lengthy files on leaders and members, and dismantled organizations. While recent scholarship has also shown that these terrorists have stolen military material and have penetrated law enforcement agencies, The Bureau, born out of anti-radicalism, has devoted much of its existence to weakening Black Radical organizations while white supremacist terrorists go unnoticed.
In 1951, the Sojourners for Truth and Justice (SJT), a Black woman’s radical organization, was created to address racist violence and Cold War militarism. In its short existence, the Bureau compiled a nearly 500-page file on the group while also keeping its leadership and many of its members under surveillance. The Bureau’s contemporary incompetence regarding right-wing organization is because its focus has historically been and continues to be on left-wing and Black radical organizations, preventing social justice progress and criminalizing anti-racism.
The SJT are but one example of FBI harassment of a Black Radical organization; but it is an important example of how quickly the Bureau and the federal government used the resources at its disposal to harass an organization out of existence. In fall 1951, Louise Thompson Patterson and Beulah Richardson issued a “A Call to Negro Women” to march on Washington to demand action on civil rights and peace. It was a year punctuated by arrests, trials, and harassment of prominent Black Radicals including W.E.B. Du Bois and Claudia Jones. Immediately, one of the Bureau informants notified the agency of the organization and the Sojourners’ file was created as the organization was being birthed. The Bureau noted the Sojourners’ intention to travel to Washington D.C. to hold rallies, speeches, and seek an audience with the President, Congress, and State and Justice Department leaders. But the Bureau was more interested in its communist affiliations. Its file incorrectly noted that the Sojourners was “initiated” by the Civil Rights Congress (CRC). The CRC headed up by William Patterson, had been designated communist, thus linking the Sojourners to the Party and sealing its fate in the eyes of the Bureau. Additionally, the Bureau noted that five of the Sojourners leaders – Charlotta Bass, Shirley Graham, Louise Patterson, Eslanda Robeson, and Frances Williams – were on the Security Index. The Index was J. Edgar Hoover’s list of individuals that would be detained in the event of a national security crisis.1
Bureau files are notorious for noting the real purpose of the organization. In SJT’s case, to represent Black Americans and the “betterment” of their conditions; but then abruptly dismissing it as a cover for disguising its “true Communist character.” In its obsessive monitoring of the trip to Washington, the Bureau noted that the group planned to protest “mob lynching, housing segregation, Jim Crowism, Negro frame-up trials, police brutality, armed forces segregation and nationwide discrimination” which “allegedly” violated the constitution. This to the Bureau was a national security threat. The Bureau also regularly told on itself in its files; in one report an agent noted that SJT activist, Adele Walker, who traveled from Los Angeles to attend the march on Washington wrote an article accusing the FBI of following the group and taking pictures. The agent tried to confirm whether pictures were taken and found that the Bureau used informants to infiltrate the group, but Secret Service and CIC agents (Counterintelligence Corp of U.S. Army) were the ones following and taking pictures. The SJT was in its infancy and it already had three intelligence agencies following it. Later, the Office of Naval Intelligence would join the fray.2
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