It began inauspiciously enough when Randall, a seasoned African-American agent from the White-Collar Crime Branch located on the 28th floor entered my office abruptly one morning. We’d known each other for almost twenty-five years, and had played on the FBI NYO’s basketball squad as teammates together, back during the early ’90’s. We’d been friends and colleagues for what seemed like forever, and Randall was a straight-shooter and a trusted confident with whom I’d shared many a difficult discussion or debate with over the years — usually over “adult beverages” at a local watering hole. We knew personal details about each other’s lives and families. And we shared a mutual respect for one another. I didn’t always agree with my opinionated colleague, but I trusted him to always give me a fair hearing and to speak truth-to-power.
“Bro, what the fuck?” he started in on me almost immediately. “Whose stupid idea was the Hoover statue gracing our museum?”
Blindsided by his abruptness, and put off by the fact that he wasn’t inquiring as to my beloved Atlanta Falcons’ prospects in the NFC South, I pushed my seat back from the edge of my desk and quipped: “Why? Who’s asking? And what’s the issue?” I deliberately crossed my legs, began stroking my chin in mock-deliberation, and winked.
“Come on, man. You know exactly what I’m referring to. Give it up. Was it your call?”
I patiently explained the story behind the Hoover statue to Randall. He listened intently, never interrupting, and waiting for me to conclude. And then asked me my thoughts on J. Edgar Hoover and his complicated history.
“Well,” I started, “putting aside all the ridiculous and slanderous allegations of feather boas, gay nightclub sightings, and steamy sex with Clyde Tolson (Hoover’s trusted #2), I gotta say, he built a heckuva outfit that you and I are exceedingly privileged to serve in.” I then launched into my prepared position on historical context and the unfairness of judging figures who lived long ago by the implacable standards and social mores we ascribe to today.
Randall nodded in affirmation. “I hear you. Just want you to see this from a slightly different perspective.”
He then commenced to sharing with me the details of conversations he’d had with a number of younger African-American agents in the New York Division [It’s worth noting that the division consisted of some 2,500 employees, over 600 task force officers, and some 1,200 special agents]. Several of the junior agents had shared their discomfort over the erection of the Hoover mannequin in the museum to him. It made sense. Randall was a senior agent of great repute and I sensed why a number of the junior agents of color would have felt comfortable approaching him on such a sensitive and potentially polarizing matter.
I listened intently to his recollections of those conversations, forcing myself to LISTEN.
“Look,” Randall stated, “I respect the shit out of you. I know your heart. You’ve always given me a fair hearing on my opinions and I just wanted you to sense where I’m coming from. I’ve also heard that there are a number of New York agents who absolutely love the statue and think it’s part of our history and belongs here. And I hear ya when you reminded me that our very headquarters building on Pennsylvania Avenue, right down the block from the damn White House, is named after the guy, as well. I just want you to know that not ALL of this division feels it was a wise idea to erect that statue…here…and now. Make sense? Look, take it for what it’s worth. Consider my position. And give some thought to discussing its removal, if you are so inclined to agree with me, with the boss.”
“That’s more than fair, Brother. But it’ll cost you. Starbuck’s on you. Let’s roll.” And with that, we headed to the elevator bank, and repaired to the coffee shop on the corner of Broadway and Reade, to discuss far more important topics like the New York Yankees bullpen woes, AAU basketball, and whether or not retirement was in our cards sooner as opposed to much later.
The next morning I broached the subject with the boss and the agent who had engineered the mannequin’s loan to the division. Both expressed disappointment that our founder’s incredible contributions to our nation’s enforcement of the rule of law were to be summarily dismissed, due to his demonstrated imperfect and fallible life. Yes, John Edgar Hoover was to become victim to the unfair scrutiny, via the employment of the P.C. prism of 21st century reality. He didn’t comport himself entirely in quite the manner we do today. And for that egregious transgression, all his accomplishments should be rendered moot for eternity. Sweet Jesus…sigh…
I took a deep breath and began, quietly explaining my initial resistance to the statue’s removal. I also carefully added that my friend and colleague, Randall, had provided me one keen bit of added insight regarding the argument against the Hoover statue’s inclusion in the museum. In his words — we have a New York Division-centric museum that pays homage to the great cases made in New York by New York agents. And if the director’s statue had been there all along, an argument could be made that it was part and parcel of the museum’s history and tradition. But a recent placement therein, of a statue that was representative of FBI headquarters, where Hoover spent his entire forty-eight year career, well, suffice it to say, could be argued was a case of a statue misplaced.
We settled on our compromise. The statue would be returned to headquarters on the basis stated above. The boss signed off on the decision and I gave directions to the Public Affairs Office that the matter be handled forthwith.
Later that afternoon, my phone rang. It was a Washington Post reporter inquiring about the “revolt” in the New York Division about the erection of a Hoover statue. I shook my head and calmly explained to the reporter that his facts were wrong, and that I wasn’t in a position to discuss anything further regarding the matter that, if true, would be an in house issue and one not to be used as fodder for the Post. I hung up the phone satisfied that the reporter understood where I was coming from and knew that his facts were inaccurate.
The “story” breaks the next day in a September 15th write-up by the Associated Press, and carried by the New York Post, entitled, “The New York FBI’s Revolt Against J. Edgar Hoover.”
So much for investigating a story and getting the facts right.
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