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Delmar to Bombingham (6) — COMING FORWARD I

FBI Evidence Response Team patchOn Saturday morning, June 22, 1963, at around 9:00 a.m., A. D. King answered his front door and found Roosevelt Tatum. He was crying and saying he had something in his heart he wanted to tell. Tatum came inside and immediately noticed Paul Greenberg, the only white man among the dozen or more people in the house. Tatum had overcome his fear and wanted to say what he saw. When Tatum explained what he'd seen six weeks earlier, King asked him to talk to the FBI. Tatum agreed and King called the Birmingham FBI office to say that a man was at his home who saw persons responsible for the bombing. (RT-PROSUM, 19; RT-RFC, 1)

When Agents Graybill and McFall arrived at the King residence, they found Tatum there, in the company of A. D. King, Paul Greenberg, and King's secretary. The agents noticed alcohol on Tatum's breath, and he explained that he'd had a couple of drinks for the nerve to tell what he saw. A. D. King explained that Roosevelt Tatum claimed to have seen two Birmingham Policemen in car 49 bomb the King residence. Identifying himself as an employee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Paul Greenberg interjected, wanting to know how soon publicity could be released. One of the agents replied, "the FBI is strictly a fact-finding agency; we are present solely for the purpose of obtaining the facts. Any premature publicity might only tend to jeopardize the investigation." The Kings and Greenberg returned that they expected, in any case, to be present when Tatum would be interviewed. Fearing this would lead to an official interview occurring "in a press conference atmosphere" and that its content would be aired publicly, Special Agent (SA) McFall said that they needed a quiet atmosphere. In order to "properly obtain the facts," they needed to interview Tatum privately, at the FBI office. (AGM-TT-BHTEL, 5; RT-RFC, 1-2)

Tatum agreed to meet privately with FBI agents later the same day and made his second statement to the FBI. On May 12, he had told agents that though he was one of the first witnesses on the scene after the bombs went off, "he was not aware of the cars that were parked in the vicinity and could not describe any of them. . . . [nor did he] observe any suspicious activities on the part of any persons prior to the the time of the explosion." (RT-PROSUM, 12) Now, on June 22, Tatum told them what he really saw. At the end of the interview Tatum consented to be questioned again but with a polygraph. (AGM-TT-BHREPORT, 5)

The FBI documents that are the basis for this narrative have in them several remarkable interactions between parties involved in the Roosevelt Tatum case. One such moment was after Tatum's interview with the Birmingham agents. It is worth quoting the document at length:

Following the interview of Tatum, Reverend Mr. [A. D.] King asked the interviewing Agents their "candid opinion" of Tatum's story and indicated that he believed it to be true. He was advised that the FBI as an investigative agency deals with facts not opinions and that the information provided by Mr. Tatum would be thoroughly checked out.

Reverend Mr. King then stated he had discussed with Assistant Attorney General Marshall the possibility of sending Negro Agents to Birmingham to assist in the bombing investigations. He said that his people are not being treated fairly by city and state police officers and unfortunately do not always distinguish between such officers and FBI Agents. He feels that members of the Negro community might be more inclined to come forward and confide in Negro Agents.

Reverend Mr. King was informed that Agents of this Bureau are assigned investigative duties solely on the basis of the needs of the service and without regard to race or creed. It was further pointed out to him that all Bureau investigations are conducted in an objective and impartial manner regardless of the indentities of the individual Agents who are assigned to to the investigations. He was advised that this was true with regard to to the bombing investigations being conducted by the Bureau in Birmingham. Reverend Mr. King stated that he personally understood this and has great admiration for the Director and the FBI but that many of the less educated Negroes make no distinction between FBI Agents and local police.

In tactfully questioning the validity of his theory that Negroes would come forward to furnish information to Negro Agents, Reverend King was asked how many Negroes had come forward to voluntarily furnish such information to him, it being noted that he was the well known, highly respected and beloved pastor of the Negro community's church and the community's recognized leader. King admitted that Tatum was the only one. He then, in apparent realization of the point being made, rather sheepishly stated he had been in Birmingham only a year and a half and actually does not know members of the Birmingham Negro community too well. It was pointed out that that the failure of Negroes to come forward with information allegedly in their possession would appear to be a deficiency of the Negro community which could best by remedied by by the Negro leaders. It was further pointed out to Reverend Mr. King that he and other Negro leaders could be of great assistance if they would urge members of the Negro community to furnish the Bureau with any pertinent information in their possession. (AGM-MEM1, 2-3)

That night, at 9:18 CST, the Birmingham FBI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) filed a report to the FBI Director in Washington, DC. The SAC was at some pains to establish the reliability of the police officer who was driving police car number 49, which Tatum alleged to have seen outside the King residence. Though Tatum testified that there were two officers in Car 49 who perpetrated the May 11 bombing, the police officer who drove Car 49 that night had previously said that he was in the car alone. The SAC explained in his teletype that


The SAC concluded with Tatum's consent to be interviewed by polygraph and, noting that there is an agent in Louisville who has given some polygraph exams and is "familiar with the facts," requested permission from the Bureau to approve the same. (AGM-TT-BHREPORT, 4-5)

The next morning, Sunday, June 23, at around 8:00 a.m, Tatum met up on 12th Street with a man known as Skeets. Skeets said that if the FBI came back for more interviews, he wanted to talk with them, too. Skeets said he saw car 49 pull off from the King house before the bomb explosions and then come back around the block again to arrive on the scene in the aftermath of the bombing. (RT-PROSUM, 26)

Reference Key
AGM-MEM1: A. G. Gaston Motel. No FBI file number. Memorandum, Rosen to Belmont, June 26, 1963.
AGM-TT-BHREPORT: A. G. Gaston Motel. No FBI file number. Teletype, SAC Birmingham to Director, June 22, 1963.
AGM-TT-BHTEL: A. G. Gaston Motel. No FB file number. Teletype, SAC, Birmingham to Director, FBI, June 26, 1963.
RT-PROSUM: Roosevelt Tatum. FBI HQ-0460048526. Prosecutive Summary Report. October 23, 1963.
RT-RFC: Roosevelt Tatum. FBI HQ-0460048526. Recommendation for Commendations. SAC, Birmingham to Director, FBI.

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