Thursday, July 18, 2024

This Hampton man was the first African American to join the FBI 100 years ago

Born 1884 to a former slave at Fort Monroe, James Wormley Jones would go on to become a World War I war hero and the first African-American Agent to be hired at the FBI.

And, while black applicants weren’t accepted into the academy until 1962, this December the bureau celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jones’ appointment to special agent and honors his position as a trailblazing pioneer who enabled the agency to widen its mission’s scope.

“The FBI of 1919 recognized the value of having more than just white men in the ranks because he went undercover almost immediately,” said Christina Pullen, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Norfolk.

Jones had worked as a police officer in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area before he joined the African-American Army Regiment, the Buffalo Soldiers.

The FBI said there are no known, confirmed photos of Jones.

According to the FBI’s website, “In the book The American Negro in the World War by Emmett J. Scott, Captain Jones is said to have led his troops through heavy fog one night in 1918 and forcibly taken over a mile of land and trenches which for four years had been held by the Germans’ in an extremely dangerous and daring raid.”

After the war, Jones continued to serve in Europe as a senior explosives instructor making him ideal for a position with the FBI’s General Intelligence Division — the division had been newly created in response to terrorist bombings, according to the FBI’s website.

James Wormley Jones' 1919 application for the FBI. (WY Daily/Courtesy FBI)
James Wormley Jones’ 1919 application for the FBI. (WY Daily/Courtesy FBI)

“Among [Jones’] prominent cases serving in this capacity were the investigation of black nationalist Marcus Garvey, who was convicted of mail fraud in 1923, and the probe of the African Blood Brotherhood, a Harlem-based radical group that promoted a separate black state,” officials said.

Jones served in the organization until he resigned in 1923 and died in Pennsylvania in 1958.

Former FBI Director James Comey added “diversity” to the bureau’s core values in 2015 and Pullen said after Christopher A. Wray assumed the position as FBI director in 2017, he made diversity and inclusion a priority recruiting initiative.

Even so, as of 2018, only a little more than 4 percent of the special agent population identify as black or African-American and about 18 percent as a minority.

“We have a long way to go but we are making improvements,” Pullen said. “The ethnic and racial makeup of the special agent population has been the most diverse in the last three years so we’re moving in the right direction.”

As the bureau looks back on the last 100 years, Pullen said it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the history and how it can evolve to become a more effective organization going forward.

“We do recognize the high value of being apart of an organization that reflects the people we serve and it is vital and makes us stronger as an organization to do so,” Pullen said.

Read more about James Wormley Jones by clicking here. 

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