Daily Archives: January 10, 2016

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U.S. Marshal Luke Moore

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U.S. Marshal Luke Moore at Ole Miss, 1962

Many Americans are familiar with the now iconic images of James Meredith, the black student who desegregated the University of Mississippi in October 1962, surrounded by white U.S. marshals assigned to protect him and ensure that a U.S. Supreme Court desegregation order be enforced.  Few of us are aware of the critical role that U.S. Marshal Luke Moore and other black Deputy U.S. Marshals played in that episode.  For the first time historian, author, and former U.S. Marshal, Robert Moore discusses the role of the black marshals in his new book, The Presidents’ Men: Black U.S. Marshals.  Robert Moore (no relation to Luke Moore) describes that role below.

When James Meredith sought to legally become the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), the duty of upholding the federal law, that would allow him to do so, fell upon the shoulders of United States marshals and deputy U.S. marshals who risked their lives to make his dream a reality.  Meredith, a U.S. Army veteran and native of Mississippi, had been dissatisfied with race relations in the South and in a calculated move, applied for admission to Ole Miss.  The university, repeatedly citing administrative technicalities, refused his application numerous times over a twenty-one month period between January 1961 and October 1, 1962.

The continued rejection of his application prompted Meredith to write to Thurgood Marshall, then head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund.  Impressed by Meredith’s determination to integrate Ole Miss, Marshall and the Legal Defense Fund attorneys, filed a lawsuit on his behalf on May 31, 1961.  The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court which decided on Monday September 10, 1962 that he should be admitted.

Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, an ardent segregationist, vowed to block his admission despite the Supreme Court ruling, and in a statewide television broadcast, called that effort “our greatest crisis since the War Between the States.”  He then added that “Schools will not be integrated while I am your governor.”  Attorney General Robert Kennedy would later call the confrontation the last battle of the Civil War.”

Barnett’s defiant stand now set up a major challenge to President John F. Kennedy who was required to uphold the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.  The President sent deputy U.S. marshals to Oxford, Mississippi, the locale of Ole Miss, to ensure that Meredith was safely enrolled and protected until he graduated.  After three attempts by Chief U.S. Marshal J.P. McShane, who led a small contingent of marshals to enroll Meredith, were blocked by Mississippi politicians and state troopers, President Kennedy ordered a much larger group of deputy U.S. marshals, a 127 man contingent, to carry out the court order and to protect Meredith.  After Meredith successfully enrolled on October 1, this larger contingent was supervised by U.S. Marshal Luke Moore.

Luke Charles Moore was born in Collinsville, Illinois on February 25, 1924 but resided in Memphis, Tennessee where he attended local public schools and entered Lemoyne College in 1942.  His college career was interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943.  Moore was assigned to the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division, and saw combat in Italy in 1944 and 1945.  After his discharge from the Army in 1946, Moore enrolled in Howard University and graduated with honors in 1949.  In 1950 he entered Georgetown University Law School and graduated near the top of his class in 1954.

Moore was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar in 1955 and joined the Washington, D.C. law firm of Cobb, Howard & Hayes where he remained until 1959 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.  In 1962, President Kennedy appointed Moore Chief United States Marshal for the District of Columbia.   With that appointment Moore became the first African American to serve as Chief Marshal in any Federal District since President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Frederick Douglass as U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia in 1877.  Moore’s appointment came just months before the Ole Miss Crisis.

Under orders from President Kennedy, over 300 U.S. Border Patrol agents were made special deputies, bring the total number of federal law enforcement officials to 538.  They were soon tested.  On October 1, ten days after his admission was first blocked by Mississippi officials, Meredith finally became a student at Ole Miss.  Later that day rioting broke out on the Ole Miss campus.  The marshals and federal troops were called up to restore order.  By the time the violence ended two men were killed including a French journalist and 28 deputy marshals were wounded by gunfire.

Following the initial confrontation, Marshal Luke Moore worked directly under Chief Marshal McShane and U, S Attorney General Robert Kennedy, supervising, coordinating and monitoring the U.S. Marshal’s activity in Oxford.  In his supervisory capacity Moore traveled to Oxford on numerous occasions although few knew of his role and his visits at the time.

Moore was not the only African American Marshal involved in the Ole Miss integration.  Black deputy U.S marshals were not allowed to participate in the initial integration confrontation but soon afterwards they became a regular part of the Meredith security detail.  The Kennedy Administration did not send these marshals in September and October, 1962, fearing that their presence would further inflame the crowds opposed to the integration of Ole Miss.  In this regard the Kennedy Administration was following a precedent established by President Eisenhower during the 1957 Little Rock Crisis, when he called out the 101st Airborne to the city to enforce a desegregation order and protect the nine black high school students designated to integrate the school.   Eisenhower ordered that only white soldiers of the unit be sent to Little Rock.

Once Meredith was enrolled, however, African American marshals were assigned to his security detail at Ole Miss.  Eight of these marshals, Richard Kirk Bowden, James Palmer, Howard Riley, Oscar Spearman, Joseph Robinson, Cleveland Braxton, Frank Lamondue, and Braxton Harris, all rotated in and out of Oxford and Jackson along with a much larger contingent of white U.S. deputy marshals in October, November, and December 1962.  Initially even these federal law enforcement officers were subject to Mississippi segregation.  When they were in Oxford, they were housed by local black beauticians Thelma Boone Price and Cecilia Nelson, who were active in the civil rights movement. By Christmas, 1962, they were accommodated, along with white deputy marshals at the Oxford Holiday Inn.

Luke Moore remained Chief U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia after President Kennedy’s assassination and through the administration of his successor, President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  In 1969 Moore was reappointed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C.  Three years later President Richard Nixon appointed Moore Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  Judge Moore remained on the bench until his retirement in 1987.

Judge Luke Charles Moore died in Atlanta, Georgia on December 18, 1994.  He was 70.

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Gittens, Charles LeRoy

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Gittens, Charles LeRoy (1928–2011)

Charles L. Gittens was an American Secret Service agent.  He joined the Secret Service in 1956, becoming the agency’s first African American agent.  An Army veteran, Gittens began his career at the agency’s office in Charlotte, North Carolina.  However, he was soon posted to its New York field office, where he was part of an elite “special detail” that targeted counterfeiters and other criminals across the country.

Gittens was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 31, 1928, one of seven children.  His father, a contractor, immigrated to the United States from Barbados.  Gittens enlisted in the United States Army before finishing high school.  He was promoted to lieutenant in the Army and was stationed in Japan during the Korean War.  Gittens earned his GED while serving in the Army.  After his discharge, Gittens earned a bachelor’s degree from present-day North Carolina Central University.  He completed the four-year academic program in three years, and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Spanish.

While teaching school in North Carolina, he was encouraged to take the Civil Service examination for Federal law enforcement agents.  After passing the exam, he was recruited into the United States Secret Service.  His career assignments included North Carolina, New York, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.

His first marriage was to Ruth Hamme; the marriage ended in divorce after 28 years.  His 10-year marriage to Maureen Petersen also ended in divorce.  Survivors include a daughter from his first marriage (Sharon Quick of Washington, D.C.), and two stepdaughters.

Gittens spoke Spanish fluently and was assigned to Puerto Rico from 1968 to 1970 as the island’s senior agent.  In 1969 he accompanied New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller on his visit as presidential emissary to Latin America and the Caribbean republics.

In 1971, Gittens was appointed special agent in charge of the Washington, D.C. field office, a prestigious posting in which he supervised approximately 120 agents.  Gittens—a founding member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives—was also tasked by the Secret Service with helping to boost the recruitment of minority and female agents.  After retiring in 1979, he joined the Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations and became deputy director of the criminal division.

Though Gittens never claimed discrimination from other agents or supervisors, he still faced it on the job.  While guarding President Lyndon B. Johnson on a trip to Dallas, he and other agents entered a restaurant, and its manager initially refused to serve him because he was black.

Gittens earned respect from other agents by occasionally working the streets.  He is credited with tackling a suspect who bolted while Gittens was monitoring a counterfeiting bust.  Charles LeRoy Gittens died on July 27, 2013 in an assisted living center in Mitchellville, Maryland.  He was 82.

Sources:
Jenée Desmond-Harris, “First Black Secret Service Special Agent Dies,” The Root, posted August 10, 2011, 4:15 p.m.; Abraham Bolden, The Echo from Dealey Plaza (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008); Del Quentin Wilber, “Charles L. Gittens, First Black Secret Service Agent, Dies at 82,” Washington Post, August 10, 2011.

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Bolden, Abraham

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Bolden, Abraham (1935- )

Abraham Bolden, often erroneously referred to as the first black Secret Service Agent, was in fact the first black agent assigned to the prestigious White House Detail.  Bolden was born to Daniel and Ophelia Bolden in East St. Louis, Illinois on January 19, 1935.  He graduated from East St. Louis’s Lincoln High School in 1952 and attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri on a music scholarship, graduating cum laude in 1956.  After graduation, Bolden married his longtime friend and schoolmate Barbara L. Hardy.  The marriage lasted 49 years until her death on December 27, 2005.  The couple had three children.

In 1956 Bolden became the first African American to be employed as a detective by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  He then served as an Illinois State Highway Patrolman.  In October 1960, Bolden joined the US Secret Service, becoming their second black agent (after Charles L. Gittens, who was hired in 1956).  Bolden was assigned to investigate counterfeiting cases.

On April 28, 1961, President John F. Kennedy, after a brief conversation with Bolden in Chicago, had him join the White House Secret Service Presidential Protective Division.  From June 6, 1961 to July 6, 1961, Bolden traveled with and guarded President Kennedy.  Following his probationary period, Bolden decided to return to Chicago as a field agent in the counterfeiting division.

After Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, Bolden’s career imploded.  He accused the Secret Service of misconduct regarding the Dallas, Texas tragedy and threatened to divulge information concerning the President’s lack of proper security to the Warren Commission investigating the President’s death.  The Commission never called Agent Bolden to testify.  Instead, in May 1964, Bolden was fired from his post and then arrested by Secret Service agents who charged him with soliciting a $50,000 bribe from a counterfeiting ring that he had helped to break.

Bolden was convicted and imprisoned at the Springfield, Illinois Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, despite the admission by one of main prosecution witnesses, counterfeiter Joseph Spagnoli, that he had been encouraged to lie during the trial.  During his confinement, prison officials attempted unsuccessfully to declare Bolden insane.  He remained at Springfield until his parole in September 1969 after serving three years and three months of a six-year sentence in Federal confinement.  Bolden returned to Chicago and worked for several companies in Chicago while trying to clear his name for what he believed was an unjust conviction.

In January 1978 Bolden gave testimony on his experiences and his allegations concerning the Kennedy Assassination to two investigators of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.  The Committee’s final report, released in March 1979, stated that the Secret Service was deficient in the performance of its duties in Dallas.  Bolden felt vindicated by this report.  In 2008 Bolden wrote The Echo from Dealey Plaza which detailed his charges.  The book describes the racism in the Secret Service at the time, and his difficulties with both colleagues and supervisors during his six years with the agency.  He also discussed how he failed to recognize the consequences of challenging this powerful agency in the 1960s when whistleblowers were rare and often not deemed credible.

Bolden’s 40-year campaign to clear his name and highlight abuses in the Secret Service around the Kennedy Assassination have finally been recognized.  He was the recipient of the 2008 Scottish Hugo’s Companion Tankard Award for Courage, the 2008 African American Arts Alliance Award for Excellence, and the 2008 Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Award for Courage.  He has also been cited by the National Urban League as being one of America’s Outstanding Black Men.

Sources:
Abraham Bolden, The Echo from Dealey Plaza (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008); Del Quentin, “The First Black Secret Service Agent,” The Washington Post, August 10, 2011; interview with Abraham Bolden by the author, January 4, 2014; UNITED STATES v. BOLDEN 355 F.2d 453 (1965); “Admits Bolden Trial Perjury: Spagnoli Tells of Trying to Aid Self,” Chicago Tribune, January 21, 1965; “Blunders and Wonders of Nov. 22, 1963,” Flagpole Magazine, November 19, 2008.

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