FBI Reportedly Spied And Kept Files On African-American Authors For Decades

J Edgar Hoover

The FBI reportedly monitored and kept files on dozens of African-American authors for decades, according to newly declassified documents which have come to light recently.

US law enforcement apparently monitored authors such as Lorraine Hansberry, and they became increasingly obsessed with “revolutionary” black authors and their possible political effects.

According to the Daily Mail, the FBI even monitored travel plans of writers and reviewed copies of works such as Ms Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man before they were published.

William Maxwell, a professor of English and African-American studies at Washington University in St Louis, found files relating to 51 African-American authors.

Maxwell found nearly 14,000 pages from files devoted to black writers, many of whom the government was going to imprison if there was a national emergency, including Mr Hughes and Gwendolyn Bennett.

Some other prominent black writers who were monitored by the FBI include, WEB Du Bois, Alice Childress and the Black Arts Repertory Theater.

Under J Edgar Hoover, the FBI became particularly interested in exploring black writers’ ties to socialism and communism during the McCarthy Red Scare era.

As Professor Maxwell told reporters, “I knew Hoover was especially impressed and worried by the busy crossroads of black protest, leftwing politics, and literary potential. But I was surprised to learn that the FBI had read, monitored, and ‘filed’ nearly half of the nationally prominent African American authors.”

In the original manuscript of Invisible Man, Mr Ellison included a line about working under “a master FBI man,” which was later taken out. According to the Princeton University Press, “The suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship.”

Even though, according to Maxwell, the FBI was “among the most dedicated foes of the diverse African American literary intellectuals,” he also added that the idea that black culture was central to black politics was also part of many of the authors’ work.