Friday, February 9, 2024

the last book I ever read (King: A Life by Jonathan Eig, excerpt nine)

from King: A Life by Jonathan Eig:

On Sunday, November 18, 1962, King preached at Riverside Church in New York. After the service, a New York Times reporter asked King if he agreed with a report by the historian and activist Howard Zinn that Negroes demonstrating in Albany, Georgia, had distrusted the FBI. The FBI was such a powerful and widely admired American law enforcement operation that criticism of the agency made news. King said he strongly agreed with Zinn’s conclusion. “One of the greatest problems we face with the FBI in the South is that the agents are white southerners who have been influenced by the mores of the community,” King told the reporter. “To maintain their status, they have to be friendly with the local police and people who are promoting segregation. Every time I saw FBI men in Albany, they were with the local police force … If an FBI man agrees with segregation, he can’t honestly and objectively investigate.”

King had good reason to complain. The FBI’s leaders all were white, as were almost all its agents. The agents assigned to Albany all were white. “The FBI men, ever lurking around the Albany Movement scene, made no secret of their unfriendliness to reporters, hostility to Negroes, and, to us, most ominous of all, friendliness to the local police,” wrote Pat Watters, a white reporter for The Atlanta Journal. “Report after report of violation of civil rights and of violence went to them from the movement, never to be heard about again.” For Watters, it came as a shock. The hostility of southern whites, condoned by police and abetted by the federal government, felt alien and un-American. Watters was only beginning to understand, he wrote, that Black people in the South lived with “the dread fact that the police are not on your side or the law’s.” How they endured and rose above that fear and threat amazed the young journalist. Black Americans, of course, knew all along that FBI agents working in the South were not on their side. “Where were they living? They were living with the sheriff,” James Baldwin said in a 1970 interview. “What were they doing on Sunday? Playing baseball with the sheriff and his men … Do you think I don’t know what’s going on?”

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