This brisk book vividly conjures up the bristling radical politics of the 1920s and the fruits of a fertile combination of two political pathologies, racism and anticommunist hysteria. It should enlighten a broad audience on a period and a type of racial and political suppression less well known than those of later decades. Indeed, the development of the government's ideology and practice of espionage on black movements that Kornweibel (African American History/San Diego State Univ.) efficiently describes went on to become the basis for the surveillance and red-baiting of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s (see Gerald D. McKnight, The Last Crusade, p. 38). We are reminded, as Kornweibel outlines the emergence of the multiplicity of government intelligence organs after WW I, that Martin Luther King Jr.'s dedicated enemy at the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, and his notorious filing system got their start way back in 1919, at what was then the Bureau of Investigation's General Intelligence Division. Efficiently deploying his archival research, Kornweibel focuses on specific intelligence campaigns against black radical publications and organizations, including the NAACP and A. Philip Randolph's newspaper the Messenger. The case of the relatively moderate NAACP demonstrates that even though supposed communist links were the pretext for intelligence tactics against black political groups, the suspicion and suppression of them during the Red Scare ``was not limited to the genuinely radical voices.'' Especially notable is the chapter on the surveillance of Marcus Garvey for its additional twist on the situation, the work of black government informers who infiltrated black organizations. Kornweibel's matter-of-fact treatment avoids rancor, allows the charged events to speak for themselves, showing how ``the political agenda of many white Americanswhite supremacybecame the security agenda of powerful arms of the national government.''
Read full book review >