[News] Was Thurgood Marshall a FBI Snitch?
News at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 25 12:22:45 EDT 2005
Commentary: Was Thurgood Marshall a FBI Snitch? Inquiring Minds Want to Know
Date: Wednesday, August 24, 2005
By: Gregory P. Kane, BlackAmericaWeb.com
Was Thurgood Marshall a "snitch"?
There's no more appropriate way to conclude a discussion about black folks
and the snitching phenomenon than to clear up whether that label can
rightly be applied to the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court,
who is also one of our most cherished civil rights heroes.
Author Timothy B. Tyson first hinted that Marshall may have been a snitch
in the book "Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams & the Roots of Black
Power." But what Marshall did in relation to Williams wasn't "snitching"
per se. Marshall suggested to the FBI -- which isn't, never has been and
never will be described as a government agency that is a "friend of the
Negro" -- to investigate Williams so he wouldn't encourage blacks in North
Carolina to get rowdy.
Before going any further about whether old Thurgood was a snitch, perhaps I
should explain who this Williams guy was.
Quite simply, from the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Williams was the
baddest brother in the country. Badder than Martin Luther King Jr. Badder
than Malcolm. Badder than anybody.
In late 1957, blacks in Monroe, North Carolina tried to integrate the city
swimming pool. Ku Klux Klan nightriders drove into the black community
looking to shoot up the home of one of the black leaders.
Blacks, led by Williams, fired back. That put an end to the KKK night rides.
Williams -- who was president of the Monroe chapter of the NAACP -- started
his self-defense group by first getting a charter from the National Rifle
Association, of which he was a proud member. Williams was a black liberal
to my liking. Black liberals these days put the NRA on the morality scale
considerably below the KKK and only slightly above flesh-eating zombies.
But after Williams visited Fidel Castro's Cuba in the early 1960s, he
became too red for most civil rights groups and the FBI. He had to flee the
country to avoid trumped-up kidnapping charges.
Tyson said "it would be simplistic to dismiss Marshall as a red-baiting
snitch," that disturbing business with Williams notwithstanding. Okay, so
what kind of snitch was old Thurgood?
Marshall's defenders will no doubt claim that given the red-baiting that
went on in the McCarthy era, the future chief justice was only being
prudent in asking the FBI to investigate a chapter president suspected of
communist sympathies. How then do we account for Marshall's cozying up to
the FBI in trying to discredit a black leader who was not only not a
communist, but a capitalist to the bone?
Dr. Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard was a Mississippi physician and
entrepreneur who was a mentor to Medgar Evers, who went on to become that
state's NAACP field secretary in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was Howard
who gave Evers his first job after he graduated college. It was Howard who
boldly helped Evers and others investigate the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till
and who let Till's mother stay at his house during the trial of her son's
Howard was praised by most black leaders of America in the 1950s. But old
Thurgood wasn't among them. According to David T. Beito, an associate
professor of history at the University of Alabama, Marshall "disliked
Howard's militant tone and maverick stance. Marshall became so alarmed by
Howard's support for a proposed march of a million blacks on Washington,
D.C. that he secretly conspired with (FBI Director J. Edgar) Hoover to
discredit him. According to an FBI report, Marshall had 'no use for Howard
and nothing would please him more than to see Howard completely crushed.'"
Howard is one of those unsung black civil rights leaders whose story
deserves to be told. Beito has written a biography about Howard that is
still in the manuscript stage. I tip my hat to Beito for wanting to tell
Howard's story. And I commend Beito for not skimping on the details about
Thurgood Marshall as snitch.
OK, maybe "snitch" is too harsh a word. But for all the criticism Supreme
Court Justice Clarence Thomas has received -- he's been called Uncle Tom,
handkerchiefhead, lawn jockey and God knows what else -- it's high time
somebody pointed out that his black predecessor on the high court had feet
of clay of his own.
Whatever sins Thomas has on his resume, collaborating with the FBI to
discredit other black leaders isn't one of them.
The Freedom Archives
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