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And I'm Madeleine Brand.
If you look through FBI files from the 1960s, lots of high-profile cases had one thing in common: an agent named Jim Ingram. He helped investigate the assassination of JFK. He spearheaded the FBI's effort to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan. And he worked to find the killer of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jim Ingram died this week, but he left behind a recording: his memories of working for the bureau.
NPR's Dina Temple-Raston listened in.
Mr. JIM INGRAM (FBI Agent): I was born in Henryetta, Oklahoma, January 22, 1932.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Jim Ingram four years ago telling his story for an FBI oral history project.
Mr. INGRAM: And Henryetta, Oklahoma is a small little cow town, which was also the home of Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, and Jim Shoulders, world champion bull rider. So, the little town has its famous heroes.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Jim Ingram was the bureau's Zelig - the man who kept showing up at one historic moment after another in the 1960s. When President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Ingram worked the case from New York. He was a new agent working on the Cuban squad.
Mr. INGRAM: And of course New York became a focal point of investigations of the assassination of the president because you had the Cuban angle, the Russian angle and then, of course, everything arising out of Dallas.
TEMPLE-RASTON: After chasing conspiracy theories for months, Ingram got a new assignment: the FBI's first office in the state of Mississippi. And what happened next was the stuff of the movies — in this case the movie "Mississippi Burning."
(Soundbite of movie, "Mississippi Burning")
Mr. GENE HACKMAN (Actor): (As Agent Rupert Anderson) The rest of America don't see it that way, Mr. Mayor.
Mr. GAILARD SARTAIN (Actor): (As Sheriff Ray Stuckey) Rest of America don't mean a damn thing. You in Mississippi now.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The year was 1964. The Ku Klux Klan was a power. And then three civil rights workers disappeared in Mississippi: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner had gone there to investigate the burning of a black church. And then they vanished. The deputy sheriff in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Cecil Price, was supposedly the last one to see the three men.
Mr. CECIL PRICE (Deputy Sheriff, Philadelphia, Mississippi): And they got in the car and said they were going to Meridian, Mississippi. We followed them several blocks to be sure that they did go that way. And last we saw them they were going down 19 South…
TEMPLE-RASTON: President Lyndon Johnson ordered the FBI to investigate and the bodies were discovered later that summer. The three men had been shot. When the FBI made the arrests in December, it led the national news.
Unidentified Man: Flanked by FBI men and quickly joined by their attorneys, the suspects were brought in in two groups. The first group included Sheriff Lawrence Rainey…
TEMPLE-RASTON: Jim Ingram was one of those FBI men.
Mr. INGRAM: There's one thing about it - Mr. Hoover knew that it was important. And he said, you will do whatever it takes to defeat the Klan. And you will do whatever it takes to bring law and order back to Mississippi.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The Mississippi burning case was at the heart of the FBI's effort to break the Klan. Over the next five years, Ingram and dozens of other agents found themselves tiptoeing through dry country fields to get the license plate numbers at Klan rallies, developing informants, investigating lynchings. One time, Ingram and another agent, Jim Awe went to question a Klansman about the murder of a local black leader.
Mr. INGRAM: So, all the way, and as we walked into the yard, he yelled, get out of my yard. I'm going to shoot both of you. Well, Awe and I looked up, and here was this guy with his shotgun.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Ingram shouted to the Klansman that he might be able to fire off a shot to shoot one of the agents, but not both of them.
Mr. INGRAM: And as Jim Awe moved over to the left, I moved over to the right. And he could see that no way could he get both of us.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The standoff ended and the Klansman put down his shotgun. Gathering information on the Klan was a regular part of Ingram's job. In 1968, in Meridian, Mississippi, he was on the trail of a Klan leader named J.B. Stoner. Stoner was one of the angriest segregationists in the South. And the FBI was worried he might stir up trouble to coincide with a march Martin Luther King had planned in Memphis. Two agents were watching J.B. Stoner.
Mr. INGRAM: And all of a sudden, this crowd came out in Meridian and started dancing in the streets.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The agents didn't understand what was happening. It was April 4th, 1968.
Mr. WALTER CRONKITE (Anchorman): Dr. King was standing on the balcony of a second-floor hotel room tonight when, according to a companion, a shot was fired from across the street.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Ingram was part of the team that investigated the assassination of Dr. King. Not long afterwards, he was given a routine transfer out of the Mississippi office. He begged to be assigned back to the South, but it never happened. Just four years ago, the FBI called Ingram back from retirement for help when it reopened old files, including the Mississippi Burning case. In 2005, a jury convicted Klansman Edgar Ray Killen for his role in those murders, 41 years to the day, after the three civil rights activists disappeared. James Ingram died this week. He was 77 years old.
Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.
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