“Judas and the Black Messiah” Inspires Congressional Effort to Change Name of J. Edgar Hoover Building

Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen is behind the initiative

Hoover building
The J. Edgar Hoover Building.
Brunswyk - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

On May 4, 1972, Richard Nixon signed a law decreeing that the FBI’s new headquarters, then under construction, would be known as the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building. Hoover himself had died two days earlier; at the time of his death, he was Director of the FBI, a position he had held since the organization’s founding in 1935.

Hoover’s reputation in the decades since his death has been, shall we say, not exactly glowing. The COINTELPRO initiative, which targeted civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., is regarded with shock and horror by many. In her review of director Clint Eastwood’s 2011 film J. Edgar, Manohla Dargis described Hoover as “a public figure who, to some, was a monster and destroyer of lives.”

Now, another historical drama might have an impact on Hoover’s legacy. That would be director Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, which focuses on the FBI’s campaign against Black Panther leader Fred Hampton — which ended with Hampton’s death at the hands of FBI agents.

Deadline reports that Rep. Steve Cohen was inspired, following a viewing of the film, to reintroduce a bill to rename the building housing the FBI. (He had previously introduced the bill in 2015.) Hoover, Cohen said, “doesn’t deserve the honor and recognition of having the nation’s premier law enforcement agency headquarters named for him.”

“The civil rights we enjoy today are in spite of J. Edgar Hoover, not because of him,” he added.

Deadline notes that Cohen’s bill has around 12 sponsors — though currently, Cohen notes, the House’s main priority remains COVID-19 relief.

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