Ted Kennedy’s FBI Files

This is interesting: Ted Kennedy’s family members, and former staffers, get to review his FBI files before they’re released to the public. If one of your parents had been a Communist Party member in the 1950s (for example), you wouldn’t be extended the same courtesy. The FBI says it won’t allow any material to be blocked simply because it’s “embarrassing.” So what would be blockable? Material that’s super-secret lawsuit-worthy double-embarrassing?

A side note to this. Late in his career, Willie McGee defense lawyer Dixon Pyles–a prominent Jackson, Mississippi, attorney who represented McGee during his second circuit-court trial, in 1946–took part in a lawsuit designed to slow down release of the secret files of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission until they could be screened for similar privacy concerns. In that effort with him was Ed King, a Mississippi-based civil rights hero who provided your truly with hours of wise and patient help during my early research flounderings on the McGee story. King’s side lost, and he was subsequently criticized in various quarters for having betrayed the spirit of the civil rights movement by making this attempt.

That view was unfair to King, as principled an individual as you’re ever going to meet. The point was to protect the privacy rights of people who, say, might have committed personal misdeeds that were not of legal or historical interest, but whose dirty laundry might have washed up in the SovCom flotsam anyway. (It happens: While researching the papers of one prominent Mississippi politician, I found memos about a much-less-prominent Mississippi politician who’d had a comically embarrassing love affair. And no, I won’t tell you who it was.)

The King episode gets thoughtful treatment in Ever Is a Long Time: A Journey Into Mississippi’s Dark Past, a great book by W. Ralph Eubanks, an African-American writer originally from Mississippi. Read more here.

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