50th Anniversary of FBI’s Jackson Field Office
Fifty years after the tumultuous summer of ‘64, a look at the creation of our Jackson Division.
|Director Hoover greets Jackson Police Department Chief W.D. Rayfield (left) and Jackson Mayor Allen C. Thompson (right) in the newly opened Jackson FBI Field Office on July 10, 1964. | High-res image|
A Byte Out of History
50th Anniversary of the FBI’s Jackson Field Office
Fifty years ago this summer, Mississippi was at the front and center of our country’s civil rights struggles, with cases such as the June 21, 1964 disappearance of three civil rights workers becoming issues of national concern. Less than two weeks later—and in response to that tragic event—the FBI opened its Jackson Field Office.
On July 10, 2014, FBI employees joined state officials, law enforcement partners, and civil rights era figures, including Myrlie Evers-Williams—widow of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was slain in Mississippi in 1963—in celebrating the 50th anniversary of our Jackson Division and the vital role the office has played since then in the Bureau’s civil rights program.
Evers-Williams noted the long evolution of the fights and passions that led to the opening of the Jackson Field Office and the scars that those directly involved bore. “We saw the FBI only as an institution set to keep people of color down,” she said. “One that was not a friend, but one that was a foe. And I stand before you today saying that I am proud to say I see the FBI as playing the role they did, and finally in my mind, and my heart reaching the point where I can say, friend.”
This turning of foe to friend was set in motion 50 years ago under unique circumstances. Usually when an FBI field office is opened, the Bureau spends a significant amount of time analyzing the caseloads of nearby offices, comparing the geographic distribution of those cases, and evaluating where the most efficient place would be to put a new office.
|Taped 1964 conversation between President Lyndon B. Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover regarding the increased presence of the FBI in Jackson, Mississippi.|
The violence in Mississippi, though, demanded an immediate and strong response. In late June, an aide to President Lyndon Johnson called the FBI’s White House liaison, Assistant Director “Deke” DeLoach, and told him that the president wanted the FBI’s presence in Mississippi greatly increased. The president himself was telling FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover the same thing as Hoover reported in regularly on the case of the missing civil rights workers. On June 29, 1964, Hoover reported to Johnson, “I am opening a main office at Jackson, Mississippi ... [but] it won’t be able to be effective for three or four days.”
|Memphis SAC Karl Dissly was charged with finding suitable space for the new Jackson Division.|
FBI Memphis Special Agent in Charge Karl Dissly—at that time responsible for investigations in the northern part of Mississippi—was sent to Jackson to hunt for office space, but he faced some challenges. The Bureau needed suitable space, and quickly. And local prejudices meant that it might be hard to find a landlord willing to rent to an integrated agency—the FBI employed not only African-American support staff but also agents.
But these problems were worked out, and on July 10, 1964, Hoover arrived in Mississippi for the office’s dedication. When speaking of the reasons for the office, Hoover said he knew that there were “strong feeling we were coming in to take over” and he wanted to allay those fears, explaining that the FBI would keep within bounds of the law and its mandate.
The creation of the Jackson Field Office, recognized last week, was a product of need, tragedy, politics, and especially passion—passion to oppose the violence and cruelty encouraged by the Jim Crow laws.
”Liberty and justice for all,” said FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano, who also spoke at last week’s ceremony, “that is what Jackson office stands for. It is what the FBI stands for.”