The release of the movie Judas and the Black Messiah once again highlighted how the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover’s leadership used the agency’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to infiltrate and destabilize several organizations and leaders in the civil rights struggle.
Though a section of Americans hold Hoover, who was the first director of the FBI, in high regard so much so that the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. is named after him, others are of a different opinion.
Inspired after watching the Shaka King-directed movie, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) announced he’s reintroducing a bill that seeks to remove J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI headquarters, Deadline reported. “The movie is a clear depiction of his [J. Edgar Hoover’s] efforts to impede the civil rights movement,” Cohen said.
Released on February 12, the movie focuses on how FBI informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) infiltrated the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and provided the agency with intelligence about the organization and its charismatic chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Hampton was killed by police on December 4, 1969, during a raid at his home.
Explaining the rationale behind the bill in February, Cohen said Hoover “doesn’t deserve the honor and recognition of having the nation’s premier law enforcement agency headquarters named for him,” adding: “The civil rights we enjoy today are in spite of J. Edgar Hoover, not because of him.”
Though Cohen said the bill has been criticized by some Republicans who liken it to “cancel culture”, he is hopeful Hoover’s dealings this time around can be “looked upon from a different perspective” following the anti-racism and police brutality protests that erupted in the country over the summer, Deadline reported. Cohen first introduced the bill in 2015.
However, the movie’s director, Shaka King, isn’t too enthused about the bill, labeling it as “cosmetic.”
“Cosmetic change is change of some kind, but it’s not really any kind of redress,” he told Complex. “It’s not fixing anything. It’s actually a fairly hollow statement. A real statement is, ‘Let’s take a look at COINTELPRO and the damage it’s caused, and let’s engage in some historic justice.’”
In a February interview with the entertainment outlet, the film’s co-writers, Keith and Kenny Lucas, were of the view the building shouldn’t bear Hoover’s name because of his actions and alleged involvement in Hampton’s death.
“My thing is like, to this day the FBI still has the building named after J. Edgar Hoover. I think that that’s a testament to how disrespectful we’ve been to Hampton’s legacy,” Kenny said. “The fact that this guy actively participated in the assassination of an American citizen and saw no repercussions, and we still glorify this guy; makes me sick to my stomach.”
His twin brother Keith also said: “Akua Njeri [Hampton’s fiancée at the time of his death], she’s still around. She’s still here. You have to live in a world where we still recognize J. Edgar Hoover as some sort of authoritative figure. We need to move past that, and I think in order for Hampton to finally get the justice that he deserves, that the name needs to be removed.”
The FBI headquarters was renamed in honor of Hoover in 1972 after he died the same year.