Inside the Surveillance War Between James Baldwin and the FBI

Before the If Beale Street Could Talk author became a symbol of today's Black Lives Matter movement, he was a high-priority target of FBI surveillance during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

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James Baldwin

By William J. Maxwell

BALDWIN BAITS J. EDGAR HOOVER—AND BUREAUCRATIC HELL BREAKS LOOSE, September 1963

...it is difficult to recapture just how rare—and just how courageous—such public criticisms of the Bureau were.

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  • Having tapped a conversation between Baldwin and Clarence Jones (counsel to Martin Luther King), the FBI reports that Jones threatened to tell the public about the omission of Baldwin's criticism of Hoover from a television program.

    Photo Credit: Skyhorse Publishing
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  • The FBI details further information about Jones and Baldwins' discussion regarding the Birmingham bombing, the inefficacy of the Kennedy administration, and the "crisis" in the non-violent movement: "Negroes are thinking seriously of assassinating Martin Luther King."

    Photo Credit: Skyhorse Publishing

PHOTOS OF BALDWIN IN SELMA, October 1963

Baldwin put his body as well as his words on the line in October 1963...

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  • Regarding Baldwin's "Communist Influence in Racial Matters," this document notes that "Clarence Jones expressed concern over James Baldwin . . . travelling to Birmingham, Alabama."

    Photo Credit: Skyhorse Publishing
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  • Left: Baldwin "was deeply concerned" when his contact did not meet him upon his arrival in Birmingham. Right: A description of the photos taken of Baldwin in a Birmingham voter registration line (see below).

    Photo Credit: Skyhorse Publishing
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  • Top Left: Entrance of Dallas County Courthouse before voter registration line formed; Top Right and Bottom Row: James Foreman (SNCC leader) and James Baldwin attempt to enter the courthouse.

    Photo Credit: Skyhorse Publishing

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