US Justice Department Memo

The failure of local law enforcement to investigate crimes against African Americans, civil rights workers and those white citizens in support of civil rights was recognized at the very outset of the 1964 Freedom Summer. More often than not, local police, sheriffs, and public officials encouraged brutality against civil rights supporters and local blacks in addition to serving as a support infrastructure to such racist groups as the Ku Klux Klan and the Citizen’s Council. The rampancy of these violations, and the rate at which criminal acts of violence and coercion were occurring in Mississippi meant that, in many cases, the FBI was the only tool of the Justice Department to enact proper investigative procedure in the region. Because of the frequency and the false insistence of local police to provide protection to civil rights workers, the FBI was criticized for failing to provide protection or adequate investigation of individuals suspected of such violations.

As a response to these accusations of insufficient action, J. Edgar Hoover wrote a letter to the Justice Department that was reprinted in the Yale Political magazine in August 1963 describing what the FBI’s jurisdiction and legal action consisted of.

A popular response of FBI to calls from SNCC leaders would be that the FBI would not provide protection but could only investigate.

The federal police force had to enact many policy changes to infiltrate and neutralize KKK including sanctioned covert programs and a circumventing of the legal system to undergo its secret counterintelligence program. “To eradicate the Klan, the FBI mounted two major offensives in 1964. The first involved large-scale, highly publicized investigations of a series of Klan murders. It was ordered by the president, complete with nationally televised statements by the chief executive that cases would be solved by the FBI in the near future. As a result, FBI presence and jurisdiction expanded in the South, particularly after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in July. The second was the White Hate Cointelpro.

                The underlying purpose of both efforts was to reestablish law and order in the South, using federal powers to repair a breach of the internal security by neutralizing the various branches of the Klan.”

Though it is difficult to sort the public investigations recognized by the FBI and the more clandestine counterintelligence actions, what became clear was the lack of policing regarding the protection of citizens targeted by such white supremacist groups.

What also came from these investigative units, aside from the concentration on organizations vetted against integration and voting rights in the South, was the FBIs interference with Martin Luther King’s activities and the organizations that he supported, which caused increased tension and miscommunication between leaders of the civil rights movement and the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.



Keller, William W. The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover: Rise and Fall of a Domestic Intelligence State. Princeton Legacy Library. Princeton University Press, 2014.

US Justice Department Memo