Pressure has been growing to convince Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change the name of his NFL team, because many Native Americans and a growing number of others find it racist. It wasn’t intended that way, and in fact may have started out quite the opposite, but the times they are a changin’, as the philosopher said.
A more serious infection of racism is a major reason for another long-overdue name change in the nation’s capital.
It is a monument that bears the name of a notorious racist, bigot, human rights abuser, blackmailer and pervert – J. Edgar Hoover.
His most notorious – but far from only – crime was his long campaign to discredit, demonize and destroy the man whose birth is being celebrated this week, the Rev.
Martin Luther King. He had King followed for years, his phones and those of his associates tapped, spread false stories about him and collected extensive files.
The FBI even sent King an anonymous letter in 1964 in a comic opera attempt to convince him to commit suicide.
Included was a cassette of allegedly incriminating recorded evidence of King’s philandering with several women.
Ralph David Abernathy, King’s successor as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said Hoover harbored a “pathological hatred” of King and the movement he headed. FBI bugged his phone calls, hotel rooms for sound as well as video, collecting the information and giving it to reporters, law officers and others, even putting together a tape of his infidelities and sending it to his wife.
In Hoover’s twisted mind the civil rights movement was part of a communist conspiracy and a threat to the republic. He did everything he could to disrupt and discredit the civil rights movement. He called King “the most notorious liar in the country.” The aide who wrote the anonymous letter suggesting King kill himself, William Sullivan, called the civil rights icon “the most dangerous Negro” in America.
Which brings us to the issue of the architectural monstrosity known as the J. Edgar Hoover Building.The 40-year-old structure has been called the building everyone loves to hate – much like Hoover himself – and an architectural monstrosity.
King wasn’t the only one he had tailed, tapped and taunted. He compiled dossiers – some including nude photographs – on prominent people that could be used as power over them, according to one biographer. He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and didn’t hesitate to employ methods of questionable or no legality.
The paranoid and narcissistic top G-man spent more time polishing his own image than protecting and defending the Constitution he swore to uphold.
Another favorite target was Albert Einstein. He kept the famed scientist under surveillance for 22 years, hoping to arrest him as a political subversive or even a Soviet spy. Hoover’s enemies list included John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, Justice William O. Douglas, Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Muhammad Ali, various members of Congress and countless others.
US Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a Reagan appointee, called for removing Hoover’s name from the building, saying, “It is as if the Defense Department were named for Aaron Burr.”
In a nation that has made great strides in the realm of civil rights in the past half century – but still has a long way to go – it’s time to toss out a name synonymous with bigotry and an anti-democratic paranoia when this mess of a building is finally razed.
That’s a cause most Jewish groups, with their longstanding focus on civil rights, should be able to get behind.