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A Byte Out of History: Special Agent James Amos

A Byte Out of History
One African-American Special Agent’s Story


Special Agent James E. Amos

His name was James E. Amos, and he served the Bureau as a special agent for 32 years…over some of the most turbulent history of the United States.

When? From 1921 to 1953.

He didn’t start out in the FBI, though. He’d served in the Interior Department and the Customs Office. He’d worked as an investigator for the Burns International Detective Agency. He’d served President Teddy Roosevelt for 12 years as a personal attendant, confidant, and bodyguard. He was a crack marksman; in fact Roosevelt, an avid hunter, called him “the best shot that I have ever seen.”

When William J. Burns (of the Burns International Detective Agency) became the Bureau’s fourth Director in 1921, Amos submitted his application for employment. His references? Talk about impressive: President Roosevelt, former Secretary of State Elihu Root, Senator Hiram Johnson, General Leonard Wood, and former Interior Secretary Gifford Pinchot.

On August 24, 1921, Amos was sworn in as a special agent. Like all new agents, he earned $6 a day, and worked hard for it. In fact, over the next three decades, he worked some of our toughest, most important espionage, organized crime, and white-collar crime cases nationwide. Among those he helped bring to justice:

  • The Louis “Lepke” Buchalter gang, a notorious band of professional hit-men known as “Murder, Inc.”
  • The Duquesne Nazi spy ring. Because of his knowledge of New York, Amos was asked to shadow Duquesne and locate his home. At the trial, Amos refuted the spy’s claim of being a close personal friend of the late President Roosevelt.
  • Marcus Garvey and his Black Star Steamship Company, which defrauded African Americans by falsely promising paid passages to Africa.
  • The notorious “Tri-State Gang,” which brutally murdered a postal truck driver, a police officer, and others.

Professor Theodore Kornweibel, Jr., sums up Special Agent Amos’s career in Seeing Red: Amos “’proved’ what should never have needed proving: that African Americans could serve the federal government in sensitive positions with objectivity, intelligence, and professionalism.” We can sum it up too: Amos was a superb agent who served with fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

Today, more than 4,200 African Americans serve the FBI and their country, making important contributions not only as special agents, but as analysts, scientists, linguists, information technology experts, executives, and more.

Want to put your talents to work, too? Apply today!