The First Black FBI Agent
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency with a history full of firsts, one of the most noteworthy being the appointment of the first Black federal agent, James Wormley Jones.
James Wormley “Jack” Jones began his law enforcement career with the Washington (DC) Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). He was first hired by the MPD as a patrolman, but soon ascended to a horseman and eventually a motorcycle policeman.
When the United States entered the first World War, Jones enlisted in the Army and trained to be an officer in the segregated Officers Training School at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. At the end of his training, at age 33, he was commissioned a captain and assigned to Company F in the 368th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division. Company F was sent to France in 1918, and his unit saw action at Vosges Mountains Argonne Sector and the Metz Frantz Campaigns. During his time in the Army, he served as an instructor in explosives and bomb making, which would aid his future law enforcement career exponentially when he returned to Washington in 1919.
In November of that year Jones was sworn in as the first African American FBI Special Agent and he began his work in a new division, the General Intelligence Division (GID), under future FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The GID was created as a direct response to recent terrorist bombings, which were occurring in major cities throughout the United States. Jones’ expertise in explosives and his undercover work was invaluable in fighting domestic terrorism of the early 20th century, and he was initially charged with infiltrating Black organizations that were deemed “radical.”
James Wormley Jones’ FBI Application, dated November 19, 1919. Image Source
His first undercover assignment was to infiltrate the African Blood Brotherhood in 1921—a secret, armed Black liberation group headquartered in New York City and led by a man named Cyril Briggs. By the end of 1921, many of the members of the organization were absorbed into the newly-formed US Communist Party. While it is unclear how successful Jones’ mission was, he was personally chosen by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for another assignment—to infiltrate Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), and given a universal FBI code number to report his findings—Agent 800. Information collected by Jones helped lead to Garvey’s 1922 arrest on mail fraud charges.
Sadly, Jones’ federal law enforcement career was cut short. He retired from the FBI in 1923 after realizing he could no longer successfully work undercover, as it became known within criminal circles that he was an ex-police officer.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.