FBI monitored dozens of well-known African American writers for decades

The FBI kept files on dozens of African-American writers and monitored their work, newly declassified documents reveal.

Literary luminaries such as Lorraine Hansberry were scrutinized by the US law enforcement who became increasingly obsessed with ‘revolutionary’ black authors and their possible political effects.

The bureau monitored travel plans of writers and even reviewed copies of works such as Ms Hansberry’s A Raisin In The Sun and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man before they had been released.

FBI agents were known to have investigated poet Langston Hughes and writer James Baldwin.

But files on a broader range of prominent black authors, 51 of them, were found by William Maxwell, a professor of English and African-American studies at Washington University in St Louis.

The academic was researching playwright Claude McKay and found out that the Jamaican-born writer had an FBI file that stretched to 193 pages, according to the Guardian.

Ms Hansberry’s file was more than 1,000 pages and Mr Baldwin’s more than 1,800.

Prof Maxwell’s investigation found nearly 14,000 pages from files devoted to black writers, many of whom the government was going to imprison if there was a national emergency, including Mr Hughes and Gwendolyn Bennett.

Literary figures that went abroad such as Mr McKay were put on ‘stop notice’ lists and were supposed to be given ‘appropriate attention’ if they returned to the US.

The average length of files with page numbers, some of which monitored writers for more than 40 years, was 300 pages.

Other prominent black writers monitored include WEB Du Bois, Alice Childress and the Black Arts Repertory Theater.

The attention to African-American literature during the mid-20th century paralleled a deep hatred of the civil rights movement and Dr Martin Luther King Jr by Mr J Edgar Hoover and the FBI.

Prof Maxwell’s book FB Eyes, which takes its name from a Richard Wright poem about being under surveillance, opens with a letter thought to be from the FBI that allegedly tried to convince Dr King to commit suicide before accepting his Nobel Prize.

‘The suspicion that government spy-critics tracked their every word inspired rewarding stylistic experiments as well as disabling self-censorship,’ according to Princeton University Press.

While Prof Maxwell said that the FBI was ‘among the most dedicated foes of the diverse African American literary intellectuals’ he also added that the idea that black culture was central to black politics was also part of many of the authors’ work.

Prof Maxwell said that some of the ghostreaders began liking the aesthetic beauty of the black authors’ works.

Source: The DailyMail

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