Late in 2000 I had many FOIPA requests out to the FBI. I was getting some documents back as well as many replies that no documents were found. When I did get documents, it sometimes seemed like there should be more information than was declassified for my request, and always there were many deletions. Now it was time to learn about appeal letters. I was consulting with Peter, my parents' lawyer, who has professional experience with FOIPA requests, but at a certain point he thought I might want to contact a lawyer and journalist named Michael Ravnitzky about some of my questions.
When I googled Michael Ravnitzky I found Secret No More, a long index of FBI files that Ravnitzky has declassified through thousands of FOIA requests. Once a requester gets documents released, others can obtain the same documents without going through the same process of search requests. You can simply request the declassified documents by file number, and they arrive in the mail in as few as three or four months—this compared to the year's wait, or considerably longer, that is typical when one makes a new request for previously unreleased documents. Secret No More explains that the website list is "drawn from information Ravnitzky has developed about 'exceptional' files—historic, notable, high-profile, or otherwise interesting cases."
Immediately I combed through the index, letter by letter. All sorts of interesting files were there—David Dubinsky, Billie Holiday, March On Washington, Committee for a sane nuclear policy (SANE), and many more that might be worth requesting. Near the top of the T's, a name I wouldn't have thought to look for: Tatum, Roosevelt. File number HQ-0460048526. How many Roosevelt Tatums could there be?
On November 14, 2000 I made a new FOIA request to the FBI, this time for 18 of the declassified files listed on Secret No More, including the one regarding Roosevelt Tatum. On March 26, 2001 I received the Tatum file in the mail. In my correspondence with the FBI, I always ask that all mail from them be directed to Peter, which he then forwards to me. Tearing open the big envelope from his law practice, I saw the familiar, generic FBI cover letter. 189 preprocessed pages. Peter had tagged a half a dozen of them with yellow post-its, marked "Reference to Paul Greenberg." I turned to one of the flagged pages and read:
ROOSEVELT TATUM, 1100 Avenue J, Ensley, Birmingham, was interviewed May 12, 1963, by Agents and stated that he was in the vicinity of the KING residence at the time the explosions took place at the KING residence on May 11, 1963. He advised he was unaware of cars that were parked in the vicinity and could not describe any of them. He, likewise, stated he did not observe any suspicious activities on the part of any persons prior to the time of the explosion.Definitely looks like the same Roosevelt Tatum, and there was Dad right in the middle of things. I'd always known he did Civil Rights work for the SCLC in Birmingham, but the only concrete thing I'd ever heard about was the benefit concert he helped organize at Miles College (more on that later). I'm pretty sure Dad was the first person I ever heard call the city Bombingham, but he never said anything about his involvement in the investigation of one of the bombings there—not to me and not to my mother.
Subsequently, on June 22, 1963, Reverend A. D. W. King telephonically contacted the FBI Office in Birmingham, stating that he had at his home at that time a man who had seen the bombers the night of May 11, 1963. Special Agents GERALD O. GRAYBILL and BYRON E. McFALL went to the KING residence, where they found Reverend A. D. W. KING, a white man by the name of PAUL GREENBERG, and Reverend KING's secretary. In addition, there were six or eight unidentified people in and around the house. Reverend A. D. W. KING stated that ROOSEVELT TATUM, who was in the home at the time, had indicated that he saw two Birmingham Policemen in car 49 bomb his residence. TATUM confirmed this. At that point PAUL GREENBERG, who said he was connected with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, asked how soon publicity could be released. He was told that the FBI was strictly a fact-finding agency, that the Agents were present solely for the purpose of obtaining the facts; and it was indicated to him that any premature publicity might only tend to jeopardize the investigation.
At that point Reverend KING, Mrs. KING, and GREENBERG stated they assumed TATUM would be interviewed in their presence. Special Agent McFALL, who was assigned this matter, immediately sized up the situation and noted that this constituted an obvious attempt on the part of Reverend A. D. W. KING and his associates to have the FBI conduct an official interview in a press conference atmosphere, so that the results would be immediately publicized, and that in addition to this, it would not be possible to intelligently conduct an interview under those circumstances. Special Agent McFALL thereupon made an immediate decision and tactfully, but most firmly, informed the Reverend A. D. W. KING that it would not be possible to conduct the interview with others present at that place, but that in order to properly obtain the facts it would be necessary to request Mr. TATUM to accompany Agents to the office, where the interview could be conducted in a quiet atmosphere with more privacy. TATUM readily agreed to this, and he was then taken to the FBI Office, where he was interviewed on that date and furnished Agents with a signed statement. Special Agent GRAYBILL, a first office Agent, was with McFALL essentially to act as a witness. (Roosevelt Tatum. FBI HQ-0460048526. SAC, Birmingham to Director, FBI. "ROOSEVELT TATUM, FRAUD AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT, RECOMMENDATION FOR COMMENDATIONS," 1-2. All-caps in original, boldface added.)
What was this case actually all about? How did Roosevelt Tatum end up making a deposition about all of this in Washington, DC? What exactly was my father's role in all of this? I also had to wonder what my father was doing at A. D. King's house before Roosevelt Tatum showed up that day in June, 1963? Had he been involved in Project C earlier that spring?
The particular document I quote from, above, is dated November 21, 1963; it calls the matter a case concerning fraud against the government. Tatum's allegations regarding the Birmingham Police are being recounted here in the course of recommending commendations for the agents involved in the Tatum case. At the end of the narrative, one commendation is recommended for the agent (name blacked out) who conducted the neighborhood investigation following the bombing of the Kings' home. The unnamed Special Agent gets praise for "facilitating subsequent inquiries which were necessary to prove the falsity of statements made by one Roosevelt Tatum to Special Agents of the FBI" (4). Special Agent McFall also gets recommended for a letter of commendation
for the excellent judgment displayed in making an immediate decision to tactfully interview Roosevelt Tatum under conditions which were most favorable to the Bureau on June 22, 1963, the detailed and exceptionally methodical fashion in which he developed witnesses under adverse conditions to show that Tatum made a false statement to FBI Agents, and his generally over-all performance on the case [sic], which resulted in the successful conclusion and confession of the defendant. (4)What happened with all of this? Was Tatum really lying? Some of the turns of phrase in this recommendation for commendation made me wonder a little. Why, in the narrative, does it say that "Tatum readily agreed" to be interviewed without the presence of the Kings and my father? The language seems a little over-interested in showing Tatum's cooperation was not coerced in any way. I also wonder why, in the praise of Special Agent McFall, he "developed" rather than simply "found" witnesses. Perhaps developing a witness is part of the professional jargon in the investigative professions. Nonetheless, I wonder.