TPMMuckraker, the investigative journalist wing of (Brown History PhD) Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo blog empire, has obtained most of the late John Hope Franklin’s FBI file through a FOIA request. The nearly five-hundred pages of material were apparently the result of a series of background checks conducted when Franklin received a number of presidential appointments. Executive summary: colleagues universally praised him; J. Edgar Hoover suspected him of Communist ties for having his book positively reviewed by The Daily Worker, praising a book by Herbert Aptheker, saying nice things about W.E.B. DuBois, and so forth. Excerpts from the file can be found here.
All in all this is interesting news if not a bit surprising. While it’s nice to see a (non-academic) blog like TPM putting John Hope Franklin on its frontpage and reminding its readers about the long history of our national surveillance state, TPM draws few conclusions from this story.
While there was once, in the late 1970s, an emerging consensus in Washington that this sort of thing was an affront to democracy, whatever modest progress was made by the Church Committee has been undone in recent years and a much more robust consensus has grown in favor of more internal surveillance. One wonders what our FBI (or DHS) files look like…and whether we or anybody else outside the halls of power will ever get a look at them.