The FBI Kept Close Ties on Black Scholars

MaxwellBookAccording to recently declassified documents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept detailed files on a number of Black intellectuals during the 1919-to-1972 period. William Maxwell, an associate professor of English and African American studies at Washington University in St. Louis made 106 Freedom of Information Act requests for FBI files on what he calls “noteworthy Afro-modernists.” He found that the FBI had files on 51 of the scholars. These files ranged in size from three pages to 1,884 pages. Combined the files stretch to nearly, 14,000 pages.

Professor Maxwell found that the FBI routinely got a hold of the manuscripts of books and articles written by these authors before they were published. And he notes that the Black writers were aware of the FBI’s surveillance and probably their works were influenced by them knowing the Bureau was looking over their shoulders.

Maxwell’s findings have been released in a new book FB Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature (Princeton University Press, 2015).

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