Recently released documents have revealed that the first black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall acted as a FBI informant for at least a decade.
The documents show that while Marshall was acting as chief counsel for the NAACP, he was also feeding information about members of the organization to the FBI. At that time, J Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI and was also a vicious racist. Hoover set up COINTELPRO, whose mission was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit and otherwise neutralize” various civil rights-focused organizations. The FBI also turned a blind eye when it received tips that suggested that various civil rights leaders lives were in danger. In return for Marshall’s information Hoover supported his career. As Marshall stated in a interview, “He[Hoover] was convinced I was responsible for routing the commies out of the NAACP, and I did.”
As troublesome as these documents are one cannot call him a trader to the movement without acknowledging all of the positive contributions he made. His defenders would say that Marshall was a strict constitutionalist and fought to ensure that the founding document was preserved and that these actions only prove that. “Thurgood Marshall very much loved his country and detested communists,” William T. Coleman Jr., a former Cabinet officer and friend, told The New York Times. “He was someone who spent his whole life trying to use the Constitution as a real force in his civil rights efforts, and I think his reaction against communists is one you would expect it to be toward people who wanted to undermine the Constitution.”
No matter what conclusion you come to, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the FBI under the leadership of J Edgar Hoover was fighting just as hard to dismantle the civil rights movement as the kings and queens of the movement were fighting to push it forward. Marshall’s actions only add an interesting twist to the story and only he knew what was in his heart.