J. Edgar Hoover

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Hoover, J. Edgar

(John Edgar Hoover), 1895–1972, American administrator, director of the Federal Bureau of InvestigationFederal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI), division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice charged with investigating all violations of federal laws except those assigned to some other federal agency.
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 (FBI), b. Washington, D.C. Shortly after he was admitted to the bar, he entered (1917) the Dept. of Justice and served (1919–21) as special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell PalmerPalmer, Alexander Mitchell
, 1872–1936, American politician, b. Moosehead, Pa. Admitted (1893) to the bar, he built up a large law practice, became a leader in the state Democratic party, and served (1909–15) in Congress.
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. In this capacity he directed the so-called Palmer Raids against allegedly radical aliens. Director of the Bureau of Investigation (renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935) after 1924, Hoover built a more efficient crime-fighting agency, establishing a centralized fingerprint file, a crime laboratory, and a training school for police. During the 1930s, to publicize the work of his agency in fighting organized crime, he participated directly in the arrest of several major gangsters. After World War II, Hoover focused on the perceived threat of Communist subversion. In office until his death, he became increasingly controversial. His many critics considered his anticommunism obsessive, and it has been verified that he orchestrated systematic harassment of political dissenters and activists, including Martin Luther KingKing, Martin Luther, Jr.,
1929–68, American clergyman and civil-rights leader, b. Atlanta, Ga., grad. Morehouse College (B.A., 1948), Crozer Theological Seminary (B.D., 1951), Boston Univ. (Ph.D., 1955).
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, Jr. Hoover accumulated enormous power, in part from amassing secret files on the activities and private lives of political leaders and their associates. After his death reforms designed to prevent these abuses were undertaken. His writings include Persons in Hiding (1938), Masters of Deceit (1958), and A Study of Communism (1962).


See biographies by T. G. Powers (1987), A. G. Theoharis (1988), and C. Gentry (1991); D. J. Garrow, The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1981); K. O'Reilly, Hoover and the Un-Americans (1983); A. G. Theoharis and J. S. Cox, The Boss (1988); B. Burrough, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933–34 (2004).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/

Hoover, J. (John) Edgar

(1895–1972) director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, lawyer, criminologist; born in Washington, D.C. He attended night classes at George Washington University while working as a clerk at the Library of Congress. After being admitted to the District of Columbia bar (1917) he became special assistant to Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and led the controversial "Palmer Raids" against alleged seditionists. Advancing from assistant (1921) to director (1924) of the Bureau of Investigation (which became the FBI in 1935), he remained director under every president from Coolidge to Nixon. Hoover emphasized modern technological investigative techniques, improved training, and obtained increased funding from Congress. During the 1930s, FBI exploits against notorious gangsters made him a national hero. In the 1940s and 1950s he became well-known for his anti-Communist and antisubversive views and activities. In the 1960s he became a problematic political figure due to his lack of sympathy for the civil rights movement and the Kennedy administration. His reputation declined in later years following revelations concerning his vendettas against liberal activists, notably Martin Luther King Jr., and widespread illegal FBI activities.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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