Skip to main content

African American Studies: Primary Sources

FBI Records: FOIA

The FBI Records: Freedom of Information/Privacy Act website provides access to information about the FBI’s Central Records System, including previously inaccessible files on civil rights figures.  Other digitized documents from the FBI may be searched through The Vault.

FBI Files digital collections

Federal Response to Radicalism in the 1960s.  Organized alphabetically by organization, this collection covers a wide range of viewpoints on political, social, cultural, and economic issues. It sheds light on internal organization, personnel, and activities of some of the most prominent American radical groups and their movements to change American government and society. Date range: 1956-1971. 

         COINTELPRO: The Counterintelligence Program of the FBI

The FBI Counterintelligence Program file contains details of the bureau’s attempts to "expose, disrupt, and neutralize" groups that J. Edgar Hoover perceived as threatening to national security. The material in this file, spanning COINTELPRO’s existence from 1956 to 1971, is especially valuable for the view it offers of the U.S. political climate in the 1960s. The file is organized in sections that reflect the bureau’s interests, among them the Communist Party of the USA, Black nationalist "hate" groups, White "hate" groups, the Socialist Workers Party, and Cuban groups supporting Fidel Castro.

         FBI File on the Black Panther Party, North Carolina

Documents in this file, spanning the years from 1968 to 1976, are mainly surveillance reports and investigative and legal memoranda, but also include Black Panther Party publications, transcriptions of speeches by black militant spokespersons, digests of FBI phone intercepts at party headquarters and some of the party’s internal records and correspondence

         FBI Files on Malcolm X

Malcolm X, one of the black militant movement’s most controversial figures, joined the Black Muslims while serving a prison sentence and, on his release in 1952, became a minister in Elijah Mohammed’s Nation of Islam. Later breaking with his group, he converted to orthodox Islam and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. The FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in 1953 and continued surveillance until his assassination in 1965

·         FBI File: MIBURN (Mississippi Burning)

In the summer of 1964, civil rights advocates Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Earl Chaney were working in rural Mississippi and were abducted and killed by local Ku Klux Klan members. Their murders were among the first to be tried under the new Civil Rights Act. This file includes bureau letters, memoranda and prosecuting reports on the case.

         FBI File on Muslim Mosque, Inc.

Founded by Malcolm X after his break with the Nation of Islam, Muslim Mosque, Inc. was a politically-oriented movement affiliated with the orthodox Islamic religion. The file contains memoranda by Special Agents in Charge and supporting documentation.

·         FBI File on the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU)

 Organized by Malcolm X after his break with the Nation of Islam, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) was under surveillance from its establishment until it dissolved in the 1960s. This file contains memoranda by FBI agents with supporting documentation

         FBI File on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was organized in 1960 to encourage voter registration for blacks in the Deep South. Under Stokely Carmichael, the group pushed for economic enfranchisement and advocated black supremacy.

The FBI maintained a file on the SNCC because Communists were believed to be infiltrating its leadership. This file comprises reports from nineteen cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. Each section is in chronological order, spanning 1964 to 1973. The file contains addresses, membership, and information on groups believed to associate with the SNCC.

         FBI Investigation File on Communist Infiltration of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

This file documents the FBI’s investigation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was organized in 1957 in Atlanta, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as president of the organization.

Federal Surveillance of African Americans

Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents.

Date range 1920-1984

This collection consists of a select group of small microfilm products. These include:

         COINTELPRO: Black Nationalist "Hate" Groups

The FBI Counterintelligence Program file contains details of the bureau’s attempts to "expose, disrupt, and neutralize" groups that J. Edgar Hoover perceived as threatening to national security. The material in this file, spanning COINTELPRO’s existence from 1956 to 1971, is especially valuable for the view it offers of the U.S. political climate in the 1960s.

         FBI File on A. Philip Randolph

Philip Randolph (1889-1979), an outspoken black labor leader, is perhaps best remembered as the organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He was elected a vice president of the AFL-CIO in 1955. This file includes memos and correspondence, most dating from the 1940s with some coverage into the early 1960s.

         FBI File on Adam Clayton Powell

Controversial politician and clergyman Adam Clayton Powell was active in many labor organizations and "militant" groups. He was elected to New York City council in 1941, and first elected to U.S. Congress in 1945. In 1967, Powell was excluded by the House of Representatives for alleged misuse of House funds, contempt of New York court orders concerning a libel judgment against him and conduct unbecoming a member.

·         FBI File on the Atlanta Child Murders (ATKID)

The file, dating from June 1980, contains memos, letters, lab tests, a detailed account of the trial and records of civil-rights questions regarding the case raised by Georgia Representative Mildred Glover and others.

         FBI File on the Black Panther Party, North Carolina

Documents in this file, spanning the years from 1968 to 1976, are mainly surveillance reports and investigative and legal memoranda, but also include Black Panther Party publications, transcriptions of speeches by black militant spokespersons, digests of FBI phone intercepts at party headquarters and some of the party’s internal records and correspondence.

         FBI File on the Committee for Public Justice

The Committee for Public Justice (CPJ), an affiliate of the ACLU, was formed in 1970 to voice concern over the "period of political repression" it perceived the nation to be entering. After the CPJ denounced the FBI, the bureau enlisted conservative media figures to help neutralize the impact of the committee’s findings. This file continues after Hoover’s death in 1972, including efforts by Directors L. Patrick Gray and Clarence M. Kelley.

         FBI File on Elijah Muhammed

Born Elijah Poole in 1897, "the Messenger of Allah" assumed leadership of the movement later known as the Nation of Islam in 1934. The file contains material the FBI collected to show immoral, subversive, or criminal activity in order to discredit him as a leader of the Nation of Islam.

         FBI File on the Highlander Folk School

The Highlander Folk School was established in Monteagle, Tennessee, in 1932 by Myles Horton, a native Tennessean who wanted to "provide an educational center in the South for the training of rural and industrial leaders, and for the conservation and enrichment of the indigenous cultural values of the mountain." The school initially educated union workers who were considered promising leadership material; then, in the 1940s, it began accepting African Americans into its program, and emphasis shifted toward aiding southern rural workers. This change raised suspicions among conservative groups, and eventually the school’s charter was revoked because state law required private schools to be racially segregated. This FBI file, spanning 40 years, is rich in school-produced materials and local news clippings. It will interest labor historians, civil rights scholars and researchers investigating postwar anticommunism, since the school was constantly suspected of having Communist ties.

         FBI File on the Ku Klux Klan Murder of Viola Liuzzo

Like the "Mississippi Burning" investigation, this was one of the first cases to test the new Civil Rights Act. The file on this important case contains FBI letters, memorandums, teletypes and more.

         FBI File on Malcolm X

Please Note: This file supersedes the 2-roll Malcolm X: FBI Surveillance File, published by Scholarly Resources in 1978. Approximately 9,000 pages of documents have been released since the original file was published, including memoranda from the FBI.

         FBI File: MIBURN (Mississippi Burning)

In the summer of 1964, civil rights advocates Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Earl Chaney were working in rural Mississippi and were abducted and killed by local Ku Klux Klan members. Their murders were among the first to be tried under the new Civil Rights Act. This file includes bureau letters, memoranda and prosecuting reports on the case.

         FBI File on the Moorish Science Temple of America

The FBI investigated the Moorish Science Temple for its alleged hostility toward capitalism and its efforts to incite revolution. This collection is organized into geographic sections demarcating FBI headquarters and various field offices, including Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia. It is filed chronologically within the geographic sections. Materials contain correspondence, memos, reports, interviews and pamphlets.

         FBI File on the Murder of Lemuel Penn

This FBI file documents the investigation and trial of murdered African-American U.S. Army Reserve Officer Lemuel Penn. It contains a large number of newspaper clippings, numerous reports concerning Klan-related activities, including statements from eyewitnesses, and photographs of areas where Klan meetings were held. It also includes correspondence with Lester Maddox, Thurgood Marshall and Lyndon Johnson. The FBI file on the murder of Lemuel Penn is an important resource for studying the civil rights movement, segregation and the Ku Klux Klan.

·         FBI File on Muslim Mosque, Inc.

Founded by Malcolm X after his break with the Nation of Islam, Muslim Mosque, Inc. was a politically-oriented movement affiliated with the orthodox Islamic religion. The file contains memoranda by Special Agents in Charge and supporting documentation.

         FBI File on the NAACP

These files on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) cover the years 1923 to 1957, and reflect bureau investigations into the NAACP’s supposed connections with the Communist party.

         FBI File on the National Negro Congress

Among these files, materials are synopses of news reports regarding the National Negro Congress (NNC), announcements of its meetings, copies of its constitution and membership rosters and the bureau’s investigative reports.

·         FBI File on the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU)

Organized by Malcolm X after his break with the Nation of Islam, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) was under surveillance from its establishment until it dissolved in the 1960s. This file contains memoranda by FBI agents with supporting documentation.

         FBI File on Paul Robeson

The FBI’s investigation of, and dissemination of information about, actor/singer Paul Robeson and his Communist party association contributed significantly to the ruin of his career. This file includes all the bureau reports on Robeson and his wife, news clippings and transcripts of his telephone conversations.

         FBI File on the Reverend Jesse Jackson

The files of the FBI on Jesse Jackson span the years 1967 to 1984 and include the original investigative file on Jackson detailing his early career as head of "Operation Breadbasket" and PUSH (People United to Save Humanity); records of various threats made against him; documents from class-action suits in which he joined against the FBI, CIA, and City of Chicago; and information regarding FBI and Secret Service protection of Jackson as a presidential candidate in 1984.

         FBI File on Roy Wilkins

Roy Wilkins, a prominent member of the NAACP, served as acting secretary and later as executive secretary. He was a key figure in the prevention of Communist infiltration of the NAACP. Provided is information on Wilkins’s connections to such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Paul Robeson. The file is also rich in Black Panther Party documents critical of Wilkins.

         FBI File on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was organized in 1960 to encourage voter registration for blacks in the Deep South. Under Stokely Carmichael, the group pushed for economic enfranchisement and advocated black supremacy. The FBI maintained a file on the SNCC because Communists were believed to be infiltrating its leadership. This file comprises reports from 19 cities, including Atlanta (SNCC national headquarters), Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. Each section is in chronological order, spanning 1964 to 1973. The file contains addresses, membership and information on groups believed to associate with the SNCC.

         FBI File on Thurgood Marshall

This lightly excised FBI file is of great value to those studying African-American history and the civil rights movement.

         FBI File on W. E. B. Du Bois

NAACP founder W. E. B. Du Bois was investigated by the FBI for suspected Communist ties. In 1951, the Peace Information Center he was running was indicted as a suspected Communist "front" organization. The file contains coverage on this event and the last section consists of newspaper clippings about Du Bois.

·         FBI Investigation File on Communist Infiltration of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

This file documents the FBI’s investigation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was organized in 1957 in Atlanta, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as president.

         FBI Surveillance File: Malcolm X

Malcolm X, one of the black militant movement’s most controversial figures, joined the Black Muslims while serving a prison sentence and, on his release in 1952, became a minister in Elijah Mohammed’s Nation of Islam. Later breaking with his group, he converted to orthodox Islam and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. The FBI opened a file on Malcolm X in 1953 and continued surveillance until his assassination in 1965. This file, encompassing 2,300 pages, gives insight into the various factions and leaders of the black militant movement during the 1950s and ’60s, as well as details on the FBI’s attempts to neutralize it.

         FBI Investigation File on Marcus Garvey

The FBI investigation File on Marcus Garvey is an informative source on his role as a spokesman for black nationalism, on the American black community of the 1920s, and on the origins of the black social protest and separatist movements.

FBI Files on microfilm

Centers of the Southern Struggle: FBI Files on Selma, Memphis, Montgomery, Albany, and St. Augustine

ReCap Microfilm 11926             Printed guide (FilmB) E185.61.C46 1988          21 reels

“Centers of the Southern Struggle makes available for the first time FBI headquarters files on five of the most pivotal arenas of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s: Selma, Memphis, Montgomery, St. Augustine, and Albany.  These files provide a day-by-day, and frequently an hour-by-hour, record of the activities, strategies, and alliances of the civil rights movement. They are also noteworthy both for the light they shed on such national figures and groups as Martin Luther King Jr., the SCLC, SNCC, CORE, and the NAACP, and for the raw data and analyses they supply on the many grassroots movements for racial equality that grew during the 1960s.”

COINTELPRO: The Counterintelligence Program of the FBI

ReCap MICROFILM 05649          Printed guide: none                           30 reels

Communist Party of the USA--Hoodwink (reels 1-17)--New left, Socialists Workers Party (reels 18-21)--Black nationalist hate groups(reels 22-25)--Special operations file,Espionage file (reel 26)--Nationalist groups (reel 27)--White hate groups (reels 28-30)

Communist infiltration of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and J. Edgar Hoover’s Official Confidential File on Martin Luther King, Jr.

ReCap Microfilm 05440                    Printed guide: none                    9 reels

FBI File on A. Philip Randolph

ReCap Microfilm 07313                 Printed guide (FilmB) E185.97.R36 F34     1 reel

“A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), an outspoken black labor leader, is perhaps best remembered as the organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. He was elected a vice president of the AFL-CIO in 1955. The FBI’s first interest in Randolph came in 1922 at his request: he had received a death threat in the mail which included a severed black hand. This file includes memos and correspondence, most dating from the 1940s with some coverage into the early 1960s.”

FBI File on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

ReCap Microfilm 10705    Online guide      Printed guide (FilmB) E748.P86 F34          8 reels

“The FBI file covers the years 1940 to the 1960’s and contains newspaper clippings and close accounts of Adam Clayton Powell’s movements.”  

FBI File on Black Extremist Organizations

ReCap Microfilm 12456         Printed guide (FilmB) E185.615 .F534 2005                       8 reels

Cointelpro files on black hate groups and investigation of the Deacons for Defense and Justice.

FBI File on Elijah Muhammad

ReCap Microfilm 10593      Online guide          Printed guide (FilmB) BP223.Z8 E4532      3 reels

“These FBI files provide background into the life of Elijah Muhammad and follow his activities and teachings as the spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam from 1953 until his death in 1975.”

FBI File, Highlander Folk School

ReCap Microfilm 09608                 Printed Guide (FilmB) LC5301.M65 F34     1 reel

FBI File on John L. Lewis

ReCap Microfilm 11817                 Printed guide (FilmB) HD6509.L4 F24         2 reels

FBI File on Malcolm X

ReCap Microfilm 10595     Online guide      Printed guide (FilmB) BP223.Z8 L574          10 reels

“The documents reproduced here were drawn from the Washington files of the FBI and have been released under the Freedom of Information Act.”  In addition to numerous newspaper articles, published interviews, and transcripts, there is a transcript of the Mike Wallace TV program News Beat, segment entitled: The Hate that Hate Produced.”

    See also:

 Transcripts of the Malcolm X Assassination Trial: the People of New York v. Thomas Hagan, Thomas 15X Johnson, and Norman 3X Butler

ReCap Microfilm 09179                 Printed guide (FilmB) KF224.H3 H342 1993                     1 reel

“Transcripts of the 1966 Malcolm X assassination trial include the full testimony for all withnesses of the defense and prosecution, and affidavits containing the original handwritten confession of Thomas Hagan [also known as Talmadge Hayer], the only actual assassin who was convicted of the crime.”

FBI File on Martin Luther King, Jr.

ReCap Microfilm 05368                 Printed guide (FilmB) E185.97.K5 L47          25 reels

Part I of The Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI File; Part II: The King-Levison File

“The FBI’s declassified documents that are contained in the two parts of The Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI File allow the reader to follow the development of King’s own career and civil rights activities in a way never before possible. Taken as a whole, this publication makes available to researchers in history, political science, sociology, and law a crucially important documentary record on one of the central leaders and one of the central issues of our time.”  There are also verbatim transcripts of conversations between King and one of his most trusted confidants, Stanley Levison.        

      See also: Internet Archive: Complete FBI File on Martin Luther King, Jr. and

Stanley Levison: Federal Bureau of Investigation.  This FBI file consists of security investigations of Stanley Levison from the 1950’s through the early 1970’s. Levison was a key advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI Assassination File

ReCap Microfilm 04449                 Printed guide: none                                 25 reels

FBI File, MIBURN (Mississippi Burning): The Murders of Michael Henry Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Earl Chaney, June 21, 1964

ReCap Microfilm 09175                 Printed guide (FilmB) E185.93.M6 F34          1 reel

FBI File on Moorish Science Temple

ReCap Microfilm 11875                 Printed Guide (FilmB) BP232.F23 1998         3 reels

“Noble Drew Ali, Prophet of Islam, founded the Moorish-American Science Temple in Chicago.  The FBI investigated the Moorish Science Temple for its alleged hostility toward capitalism and its efforts to incite revolution. This collection is organized into geographic sections demarcating FBI headquarters and various field offices, including Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia. It is filed chronologically within the geographic sections. Materials contain correspondence, memos, reports, interviews, and pamphlets.”

FBI File on National Negro Congress

ReCap Microfilm 06061           Printed guide (FilmB) E185.61.F34                  2 reels

FBI File on Paul Robeson

ReCap Microfilm 06062           Printed guide (FilmB) E185.97.R63 F34          2 reels

FBI File on Roy Wilkins

ReCap Microfilm 07312                 Printed guide (Film B) E185.97.W54 F34         1 reel

“Provided is information on Wilkins’s connections to such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Paul Robeson. The file is also rich in Black Panther Party documents critical of Wilkins.”

FBI File on W.E.B. Du Bois

ReCap Microfilm 10592             Printed guide (FilmB) E185.97.D73 F24          1 reel

The documents reproduced here were drawn from the Washington files of the FBI concerning Du Bois’ membership in the Communist Party, tours of West Africa and Eastern Europe, excerpts of speeches, newspaper clippings, and files of the Passport Office.

FBI File on Thurgood Marshall

ReCap Microfilm 11883             Printed guide (FilmB) KF8745.M34 F35 2001       1 reel

“This file contains information on Marshall’s civil rights activities in Texas during the 1950s and his allegations of harassment by Texas rangers and the Texas attorney general. Material reproduced here includes hate mail received by Marshall, background checks on Marshall and his supposed communist sympathies, and details on the FBI’s surveillance of Marshall. The file also details Marshall’s acrimonious relationship with the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover.”

FBI File on the Black Panther Party, North Carolina

ReCap Microfilm 06082           Printed guide (FilmB) E185.615.F24                    2 reels

FBI File on the KKK Murder of Viola Liuzzo

ReCap Microfilm 09176                             Printed guide (FilmB) E185.98.L58 F24 1990        1 reel

FBI File on the Murder of Lemuel Penn

ReCap Microfilm 11871           Printed guide (FilmB) HS2330.K63 F344 1997        5 reels

FBI File on the Muslim Mosque, Inc.

ReCap Microfilm 10591    Online guide               Printed guide (FilmB) BP223.Z8 L5743               3 reels

The collection covers Malcom X’s split with the Nation of Islam, as well as the formation, and surveillance of the Muslim Mosque, Inc. that continued beyond his death.

FBI File on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

ReCap Microfilm 07314              Printed guide (FilmB) E185.5.N276 F34            4 reels

“These files on the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) cover the years 1923 to 1957, and reflect bureau investigations into the NAACP’s supposed connections with the Communist party.”

FBI File on the Organization of Afro-American Unity

ReCap Microfilm 10594                 Printed guide (FilmB) BP223.Z8 L5745          1 reel

Formed in 1964, “the Organization of Afro-American Unity was the brainchild of black activist Malcolm X.  The documents reproduced here were drawn from the Washington files of the FBI.”

FBI File on the Reverend Jesse Jackson

ReCap Microfilm 06148                 Printed guide: none                                         1 reel

FBI File on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

ReCap Microfilm 09178              Printed guide (FilmB) E185.61.F355             2 reels

“The FBI maintained a file on the SNCC because Communists were believed to be infiltrating its leadership. This file comprises reports from nineteen cities, including Atlanta (SNCC national headquarters), Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. Each section is in chronological order, spanning 1964 to 1973. The file contains addresses, membership, and information on groups believed to associate with the SNCC.”

FBI Investigation File on Marcus Garvey 

ReCap Microfilm 04447                 Printed guide: none          1 reel

The collection contains FBI reports, memoranda, clippings, letters, and telegrams about Garvey’s activities.

Federal surveillance of Afro-Americans (1917-1925): the First World War, the Red scare, and the Garvey movement

ReCap Microfilm 05596                        Printed guide: none                                        25 reels

“At the center of this collection are the enormous surveillance files of the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Investigation under Directors A. Bruce Bielaski, William J. Flynn, William J. Burns, and their young and able assistant, J. Edgar Hoover. From all of the bureau case files covering black groups, periodicals, and individuals between 1917 and 1922, every relevant file concerning black political activities has been included in this collection.”