FBI Retired Case File Review celebrates Black History Month by featuring two interviews previously conducted with African American FBI trailblazers. In Episode 186: John Glover – FBI 100th Anniversary of African American Special Agents, retired Executive Assistant Director (EAD) Dr. John Glover, Ph.D. reviews the history of African American special agents in the FBI from 1919 through 2019, why diversity, especially in law enforcement, matters, and recounts stories from his extraordinary career in the FBI. In Episode 014: Wayne Davis – Director Hoover and FBI Diversity, retired Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Wayne Davis provides a fascinating personal and historical account of diversity in the FBI and his private meeting with Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1965, at which time the Director expressed his views about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.
A brief history of African Americans in the FBI:
In 2019, the FBI celebrated the 100th anniversary of African American Special Agents and highlighted the hiring of James Wormley Jones by Director Hoover in November 1919. Wormley is believed to have been the first African American special agent hired by the Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner of the FBI. Jones left the Bureau in April 1923. Several other African Americans were also hired during this period, primarily to investigate and infiltrate black nationalist organizations, such as the group led by Marcus Garvey. Once these investigations were completed, Director Hoover hired no other African Americans as FBI special agents for nearly forty years.
The African American special agents serving in the FBI after the mid 1920s and up until 1962, were support employees who were given the title of “Special Agent” by Hoover. They had not met the established college requirements, had not been allowed to attend the FBI Academy, and did not perform many of the duties in the special agent job description.
It 1962, Director Hoover was under pressure by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and the Department of Justice to diversify the ranks of the FBI with fully qualified and college educated African American special agents. The first two African American candidates to attend the FBI Academy, Aubrey Lewis and James Barrow, entered on duty together in the summer of 1962. A year later in the summer of 1963, Wayne Davis and another African American candidate, John Cary, attended the FBI Academy and joined the Bureau. John Glover received his appointment to attend the FBI Academy and become a Special Agent in October 1966.
The first African American female special agent, Sylvia Mathis, joined the FBI in 1976. I joined six years later in 1982 and was the 23rd black female in the FBI and the first African American female agent to serve in the Norfolk and Sacramento Divisions.
Past and current FBI recruitment efforts are focused on maintaining a diverse workforce that reflects the demographics of the populations the Bureau serves. As noted in the article linked below, those efforts can be challenging.
However, with persistence the contributions of African American special agents in the FBI will continue and we will celebrate Black History Month with new stories of African Americans special agents in the FBI.