Tag: Dr. Martin Luther King

20200510_190852The mere mention of his name was enough to cause fear and apprehension.  Politicans, film stars and celebrities of all sorts had learned that he knew all of their secrets.  Exactly how many secrets he knew is still a mystery as his most sensitive files were destroyed when he died.  But what is certain is that John Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) stands out as one of the most feared figures from his time as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”).  During his time in office, he witnessed six presidential administrations and three wars, the latter of which would continue after his death. His reign was supreme and no one deared to challenge it out of fear that they would wall fall victim to the wrath of one of America’s most powerful investigators.  The public facade carefully crafted by Hoover, served him well in masking the many dark secrets he kept closely guarded. Curt Gentry peels back the layers in this look at the life of the legendary FBI director.

The book is exhaustively researched and is quite extensive, topping out at 760 pages including the epilogue.  But contained within, is an incredible account of Hoover’s life that will leave readers spellbound.   Some may be familiar with the FBI’s actions in the past, many of which came to light after Hoover’s death.  In fact, today we are still learning of the seemingly endless number of informants and secret investigations carried out under Hoover’s directions. The Freedom of Information Act has proven to be invaluable in the research that has been conducted in order to fully understand the nefarious actions of an agency under the control of a power hungry tyrant.

The book starts off on the morning of Hoover’s death, as driver James Crawford notices that something is not quite right at the director’s home.  Although he was seventy-seven, Hoover had refused to retire but age and time had caught up with him.  The news of his death spreads quickly, sending shockwaves throughout Washington, D.C., and across the nation.  Gentry provides the dramatic opening scene to the suspensful drama that developes as the book progresses.  We are provided background information on Hoover’s early life in the nation’s capital.  But the story picks up pace as he joins the Bureau of Information which is later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Although he could not have known it at the time, he had found the organization that he would call home the rest of his life.

What I found to stand out is that the book is not just a story about Hoover, but a good look at American history.  Figures of the past come into the story such as former presidents, attorney generals and intelligence figures.  Some would be allies and others would become bitter enemies such as the legendary William J. Donovan (1893-1959), the former director of the Office of Strategic Services.  The bitter feud between Donovan and Hoover is one of the most bitter fights I have ever read of.  Hoover was never short on enemies, and Donovan is only one of many who appear in the story.  The battles are fierce and filled with backstabbing and petty jealousy.  Gentry revisits many of them  showing the lengths to which Hoover went to make his authority absolute.   Also discussed is Hoover’s obsession with communists and the morality of those who did not live up to his rigid standards.

Clyde Anderson Tolson (1900-1975) is well-known as not just the former associate director of the FBI, but as Hoover’s closest friend.  Some have even proffered that Tolson and Hoover were even “closer” than many suspected.  And although homosexual rumors have persisted about the two, to date there has not been any semblance of irrefutable evidence that the two were lovers. Gentry addresses the topic but does not stray off track nor does he give into simply gossiping about the matter. It is discussed and quickly put to rest.  The author leaves it up to the readers to decided what may or may not be the full story regarding the pair’s relationship.   It is a shot in the dark, but their wills, discussed in the epilogue, may give some clues about their relationship.

As the story develops, Hoover’s importance in some of the key events in American history become apparent, some in disturbing ways.  In particular, his actions during World War II might send some readers over the edge.  I found myself staring the author’s words in disbelief and the shock that had settled in which also  took some time to wear off.  And if that were not enough, Hoover’s actions towards those who dared to challenge him, leave no doubt about his abuse of power. Further, his actions towards his own agents in particular famed outlaw pursuer Melvin Purvis (1903-1960), is just simply absurd. The stories are shocking and will undoubtedly leave readers shaking their heads.

Hoover ruled the FBI for over forty years and during that time six presidents came and went.  All had their opinions of the director and their true feelings about Hoover are also discussed revealing some very interesting facts about what really did happen behind the scenes between the FBI director and the commanders in chief.  Hoover proved to be even more devious than any of them could have ever suspected. However, his thirst for power and tendency to savor gossip about the sexual lives of those he surveilled, reveal a much darker and perverse side of Hoover that the public never saw.  But as those who worked for him would later admit, Hoover was bigoted, homophobic and a bully among many other things.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Gentry pulled out all of the stops here and no stone is left unturned. The battles between Hoover and those he despised take center stage.  Some of the people on his “hit list” such as Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1925-1968) fully recognized the man they were dealing with. When Roosevelt made it clear that she did not approve of the director’s methods, she became a constant target of Hoover’s rage as detailed by the author.  These two iconic figures are a small sample of a long list of figures featured in the book who became enemies of Hoover and in the process had their lives placed under constant surveillance by the FBI in direct violation of United States law.  These methods used by the FBI is perhaps one of the darkest stains on the records of J. Edgar Hoover.

There is one part of the story that I found to be highly interesting even though it is more a sub-story than anything else.  For all of the information that the author does provide on Hoover and the FBI, what emerges is that the director does not have very much of a personal life.  What I realized and what the author makes clear, is that the FBI was his life and when looking at things in that context, his dictator like methods are eaiser to understand.  Without the FBI, there was no J. Edgar Hoover and he himself realized that and did whatever he felt necessary to retain that power.  However, like all dictators he would fall from grace and had he not died, he eventually would have been removed from his post.  And it might have happened during the administration of the last president he served, Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994).  This part of the book is when we finally see that Hoover is on borrowed time.  But the seasoned directly pulls a few tricks from up his sleeve first.  The drama that unfolds is captured with the right amount of suspense by Gentry and readers will be on edge waiting for the climax to arrive. And in a suprising revelation, Hoover’s relation to the Watergate scandal is explained putting Nixon’s actions into a whole new light.

The fallout from decades of Hoover’s rule over the FBI is stunning and for all involved, the gloves were off.  William Sullivan (1912-1977) emerges as the new arch-enemy and pulls no punches whene he goes after the FBI after resigning.  His statements and the later investigations by the Justice Department after Hoover’s death, will leave some readers speechless.  Corruption might just be an understatement.  The story is almost surreal and if you had any doubts about Hoover’s character before reading the book, then they will surely be confirmed.  The conclusion of this epic story highlights the biggest irony of Hoover’s life and readers will not fail to notice.

So far I have discussed many of the dark aspects of the book which are abundant.  If I had to choose a bright spot in the book, it would be that Hoover did in fact make the FBI the respected organization that it came to be and no one can take that away from him. However, the backstabbing, vindictiveness and illegal actions at his command, make it difficult to show him in a highly positive light.  Quite frankly, after finishing the book, I found myself repulsed at what I had learned.  If you are looking for a story of power in the wrong hands, look no further, this is it.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B00630Z8GM
ISBN-10: 0393321282
ISBN-13: 978-0393321289

Biographies

Newman Vol 3In Countdown to Darkness: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume II , author John M. Newman warned us that a storm was brewing.  President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and his brother Robert F. Kennedy (19125-1963) had come to realize that not all who smile come as friends.  But what they could not have foreseen, was the depth of resentment towards them from the military, Cuban exiles and the intelligence community.  In the second volume, we learned about the demise of Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), the relationship between the Kennedys and mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975), Oswald’s alleged “defection” and the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961.  Newman resumes the story and takes us deeper behind the scenes in the Kennedy Administration which found itself in damage control to prevent rupturing at the seams.

The present volume revisits the Cuban situation and also focuses on the doomed Operation Mongoose.  The covert operation has gained traction in research circles as an example of the doomed efforts to remove Fidel Castro, but as we see here, there was far more to the story.  For several decades, the rumor of Robert Kennedy giving a green light to assassinate Fidel Castro has persisted.  The myth was pioneered by former CIA operative Samuel Halpern (d. 2005), who was not fond of either Kennedy brother.  Newman investigates that myth and finally separates fact from fiction.  And the story that emerges is one of deception, exemplified by the actions of many such as Bill Harvey (1915-1976), Richard Bissell (1909-1994) and Gen. Edward Lansdale (1908-1987).  Halpern’s tale is so convoluted that it even caught the attention of journalist Seymour Hersh who examined the Kennedy family in his book  ‘The Dark Side of Camelot‘, which does no favors to the Kennedy name. I do not know if Hersh has read this book but when or if he does, I am sure the facts revealed by Newman may cause him to revise his work.

If you have read Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, then you are already familiar with one of the most peculiar characters in the JFK assassination story, Antonio Veciana.  As leader of the anti-Castro group Alpha-66, he was responsible for daring acts against the Castro regime.  The acts were so worrisome that Kennedy eventually ordered the military to have them cease and desist.  But just who was Veciana and did he really meet a contact named Maurice Bishop?  It is believed that Bishop was a cover name for David Atlee Phillips (1922-1986), a legendary CIA officer and founder of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.   The story of Veciana and Bishop can be quite confusing and for years Veciana played mind games with investigators.  Fonzi died before Veciana would make several changes to his story but Newman catches them all here and reveals the truth about Veciana’s recruitment into CIA activities and his alleged meeting with Bishop. To say it is puzzling would be an understatement.

Oswald’s “defection” to the Soviet Union is one of the most bizarre parts of his story.  While he never actually defected, his actions did catch the attention of the Russian KGB and the CIA.   Americans attempting to defect to Russia at the height of the Cold War was beyond comprehension and Oswald would have known this as a former Marine.  But the question remains, if Oswald really wanted to defect, then why didn’t he?  James Angleton (1917-1987) was the CIA Counterintelligence Chief from 1954-1975.  Undoubtedly, Oswald would have been of high interest to Angleton, whose hunt for Soviet moles within the CIA destroyed lives and damaged careers.  Until his final days in the CIA, he was convinced that there was a Soviet mole in the agency.  During his tenure, Soviet defectors did approach American officers.  One of them was Yuri Nosenko, whose story is another critical part of the Kennedy labyrinth.   However, Nosenko was a strange character and a career spy.  But was he a real defector?  Newman re-examines Nosenko’s story to show us what was really taking place in the spy war between the CIA and KGB.

An often misunderstood part of Kennedy’s election to office is the role of the Civil Rights Movement.  American politicians have known for decades that the Black American vote is crucial to winning a major election.   Kennedy faced an enormous hurdle in gaining the black vote primarily because he was Catholic and a Democrat.   The story of how he obtained the Black vote and why is critical to understand what he represented to millions of Americans.  His “New Frontier” program was advanced in many ways but sadly it never came into reality due to his death.  Newman wants us to understand how Kennedy was propelled to office and why the story is relevant to his death in 1963.  In 1960, Kennedy beat Richard Nixon (1913-1994) by an extremely slim margin.  Prior to the election, a series of events took place that changed the course of history.  They would involve both Robert and John Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).

The efforts to secure Kennedy’s claim to the White House by Sam Giancana is well-known to researchers and those with a keen ear for mafia tales.  But the relationship between the Kennedy family and Giancana was quite unusual in itself and had the public known of the connection, I can only imagine what the fallout would have been.  Giancana was a walking tomb of dark secrets and he is mentioned briefly in this volume again, along with Johnny Roselli (1905-1976) whose efforts to topple Castro are part of CIA-Mafia lore.

As Kennedy takes office, he soon finds that the battles in Washington are just beginning.  After the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco, he knew better than to trust the word of the CIA and Pentagon.  But what they did not know was that Kennedy had been changed by the Bay of Pigs and was determined to make sure the CIA and Pentagon never got away with such a ruse again.  This part of the book is where things get deeper and take a much darker turn.  Laos and Vietnam loom over Kennedy like a dark cloud and he soon finds himself on the defensive as military brass are demanding intervention in Southeast Asia.   Cuba is never far off the radar and once again it becomes a hot topic.  It became so hot that the Pentagon concocted plans that repulsed Kennedy and widened the gap between the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  If you have heard the name Operation Northwoods, then you have an idea of where the story is going.  The stage is slowly being set with tensions rising.  The Pentagon and CIA are hungry for a war but can they proceed with a President who is becoming increasingly distrustful of his own advisors?  As the book concludes, it becomes clear that the Kennedys are on a collision course with the military and intelligence community and the climax will be far more serious that Americans could have imagined.

Volume IV is still in the works but when it is released, I am sure that Newman will continue with this eye-opening assessment of one of America’s darkest moments.  Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07NJRY8WJ

JFK

john lewis

The Declaration of Independence of the then Thirteen States of America, is often looked upon as inspiration for what liberty truly means. The second paragraph drives home the point with the following words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The words, when taken at face value, give off the impression of a country in which one can truly be free. But we very well know through history, that the opposite has been true, millions of people, in particular Black Americans have had to endure a long and hard struggle to achieve equality in the United States. Two weeks from today, America remembers the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) and his view for a United States in which its citizens were truly united. Great strides have been made since Dr. King’s death, but by no means should his legacy be forgotten. Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) was a close associate of Dr. King’s and today he is one of the remaining figures from the Civil Rights Movement. Many of his peers are deceased but today at seventy-eight years of age, he is still serving in the U.S. House of Representatives continuing to fight for what he believes is the direction to the move the United States forward. At first glance he is unassuming but if you study his life and words closer, you will soon learn that this remarkable figure has an extraordinary story to tell about his participation in the movement for racial equality.

When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, John Lewis is typically not the first figure many would have in mind. With his short stature and plain image, he appears to be the loving grandfather on the neighborhood block rather than the activist he was and still is. But just how did a young kid from the country in Georgia go on to be a pivotal figure in the movement that changed America? The answer to that question and many others about Lewis’ life are contained within the pages of this autobiography that is sure to leave the reading asking for more. In fact, I found it increasing difficult to stop reading the book once I had started. With Lewis’ easy-flowing narrative and endless anecdotes about himself and some of the most legendary figures America has ever seen, the book transplants the reader back in time to witness how a cause became a national and world-wide struggle against discrimination.

One of the things that I found likeable about the book is Lewis’ openness about his own shortcomings. He never portrays himself to be above anyone or all-knowing. In fact, he easily recalls the times in which he was lacking in knowledge, overcome with fear of his opponents and reluctance to partake in the cut-throat world of politics. Quite frankly, he has walked the walk and talked the talk, risking his life in sit-ins, marches and voter registration drivers in the deep American south, culminating with the showdown with the virulent racist Sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama, Jim Clark. (1922-2007). In fact, the events Lewis recalls, are also discussed in the book by another of his close associates, Ralph David Abernathy (1926-1990). His autobiography and memoir of the movement was appropriately titled And the Walls Came Tumbling Down . Both authors played an important part in those events and do not fail to explain in full detail how they developed and why they were important. I highly recommend that book as a complement to Lewis’ story.

Similar to Abernathy’s book, King is a critical character in the story and both authors show how important King was to the movement at hand. What is also revealed, particularly here is the complicated power struggles within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Infighting, jealously and egos all play their parts in the story revealing the sometimes fragile relationships at the base of the movement. Misogyny, homophobia and even racism against White Americans became the tools that turned the SCLC into a shell of its former self. The assassinations of the 1960s convinced many that nothing could ever be the same again. Lewis addresses all of them and his relationship to several of the late figures. Students of the movement will recall that Lewis eventually became part of the campaign by Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) for President of the United States. His memories of Kennedy are touching and is yet another example of the extreme sense of loss that following in the wakes of the assassinations that became all to common in the turbulent 1960s.

Today it is nearly impossible for youths to imagine what life was like for Black Americans during Jim Crow and later, even as President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) pushed forward an earth-shattering civil rights bill. As Lewis puts it, raw fear was a daily reality in a time where social justice warriors sometimes died early deaths and authorities used every trick in the book to maintain a strict social structure of power. His ability to fair in the book and examine every situation from all sides has earned him followers and detractors but here, Lewis explains himself, leaving it up to the reader to digest his words and perhaps use them in a positive way. What I found equally important as the story at hand is his messages to Black Americans as well. Change in society must come from all places, and only then can a nation truly move forward. John Lewis has spent the majority of his life fighting for equality on behalf of those who sometimes have no other voice. His eyes have seen some of the most important events in history and he is a living testament to the strong character common to his peers who became world-respected figures in their own right.

If you are looking for a good read about the Civil Rights Movement, this is a fine place to start where you can follow John Lewis as he is walking with the wind.

ISBN-10: 9781476797717
ISBN-13: 978-1476797717

Biographies Civil Rights Movement