The Griffin Files – Analysis and Reflection
By Taustin Kaste
Heading this document we see the words ‘Office Memorandum” which means that this document will most likely be a directive letter. At the top of this letter one can find an address. The letter is addressed to the director of the FBI from the special agent in charge of the Omaha division of the FBI. The importance of this letter must be high if it is being sent straight to the director of the FBI. The subjects of this letter are clearly stated at the top of the document. The subjects are Stanley Griffin and Edna Griffin. When the letter says “subjects”, it means the people being investigated. Also, at the top of the document one may see what appears to be a stamp. This stamp signifies that the document was classified but became unclassified at one point in time. You are not able to see at what time it became unclassified because there are a series of numbers over the declassified date. Besides the stamp that signifies the declassification of the letter, one can find stamps on the sides and bottom of the letter. These stamps have initials, display the word FBI, and say “recorded and indexed”. The stamps placed on the sides and bottom seem to be there for file keeping, security, and legal purposes. The FBI is a fairly confidential government organization, so we can see why they want to keep documents on file and secure.
In the opening paragraph of the document the special agent in charge explains the reason for writing this letter to the director, “In view of the most recent Bureau instructions”. The special agent in charge wants to get straight to the point of why he is sending this letter. A memorandum should be formal and short and to the point and the agent is on his way to accomplishing that. Another reason why the agent might want to jump straight to the point is because the letter is to the director of the FBI, who had to be a very busy man. Next, he explains the Bureau’s instructions, which are to place any Communist Party leaders on the Security Index list. The reader now knows why the letter is being written and the people being investigated. With this information you can predict that the people being investigated may be part of the communist party. The prediction is proved true as the first paragraph concludes. Edna Griffin is revealed as “secretary and treasurer of the Des Moines Branch of the Communist Party,
The second paragraph gives us the reason behind the investigation of Edna Griffin. An informant to the FBI is introduced. This informant is confidential with their name blanked out, because the informant may be a person who should not be mentioned for their protection or perhaps it is an FBI spy. When the Communist Party threatened national security, around this time, FBI spies were sent in to infiltrate the party and find out who the important members were. This confidential informant finds that Edna Griffin is an active secretary and treasurer of the Des Moines branch of the Communist Party. Because Edna is the secretary and treasurer, the informant is able to reason that Edna works with the Communist Party District Headquarters located in Omaha. The letter is most likely coming from the special agent in charge of the Omaha division because of the relation to the case in Omaha. The informant concludes that Edna would have records of membership for the Communist Party in the Des Moines branch and the Omaha branch.
The special agent in charge reaches the directive part of the memorandum when he requests for “Security Index Cards to be made on each of the captioned subjects”. It is important to notice that he requests Security Index Card and doesn’t order them to be made for both subjects. The special agent in charge ranks lower than the director of the FBI so only requests may be made. If it were the other way around, there might be an order made. Regardless of whether the Security Index Cards are made or not, the special agent in charge notes that the subjects are under investigation and a report of the investigation will be submitted. The subjects the special agent is referring to are Edna Griffin and her husband Stanley Griffin.
The main subject in this FBI letter is Edna Rose. Edna was born in Kentucky in 1909. After she was born in Kentucky, her family moved to New Hampshire where she grew up. In 1933 Edna graduated from Fisk University. Soon after graduating Edna married her husband, Stanley Griffin, who was a medical doctor. The griffins had three children and relocated to Des Moines in 1947. Edna joined the Progressive Party in hopes of ending discrimination against African Americans. This makes sense because Edna was an African American herself.
During the time this letter was written, 1948, the Communist Party was expected to soon be made illegal. Some members of the Communist Party members saw this happening and decided to abandon the party. The former members of the Communist Party still wanted a party that would recognize their views. The Progressive Party didn’t really recognize the Communist Party views but was a small enough party that could be infiltrated with Communist Party members. It is believed that the leaders of the Progressive Party were not communist but did not pay much attention to what was happening inside the organization. A smaller party wants to gain members, so it would be a hard decision to turn people away.
Since the Communist Party members were so integrated in the Progressive Party, it is possible to see both parties as one in the same. The Federal Bureau of Investigation must have noticed this happening and associated both parties as one. Communist ideals were a threat to national security, so the activity of the party was closely monitored. This is the point at which the FBI investigates Edna Griffin. Edna is investigated because of her high-up position in the party. It is unclear whether Edna is or is not aware that her party is so closely tied to the Communist Party. It appears she is mainly interested in the views of the party that involve ending discrimination against African Americans.
This FBI letter, which requests that Security Index Cards be made on Edna and her husband, is written on April 22, 1948. Not three months after, Edna becomes the leader of a campaign to desegregate the lunch counter at a shop located downtown called Katz Drug Store. When Edna, her daughter, and two of her daughter’s friends are refused service at the drug store, she protests. Not only does Edna protest, but she goes to court and charges the owner, Maurice Katz, for violating the 1884 Iowa Civil Rights Act. A year later, in 1949, the Supreme Court sided with Edna Griffin and Maurice Kurtz was deemed guilty. This civil case was publicly recognized and, years later when Rosa Parks became famous (1955), Edna Griffin received the nickname “the Rosa Parks of Iowa”. Edna Griffin sparked the Civil Rights movement even before Rosa Parks did, but it just so happens that Rosa Parks’ action was the one that caught ablaze.
It is interesting to note that the FBI was investigating Edna and her husband before Edna became famous. Had the investigation turned up anything negative, she may have been put in jail or charged before her inspiring events. If Edna was charged with something petty previous to her fame, then it is possible that the case between her and Maurice Kurtz may not have happened or if the case did happen, then it could have been tainted with the charges.
Edna continued to be an advocate for the Civil Rights movement. Along the way she received many honors and achievements. Edna Griffin passed away in the year 2000 but her legacy lives on.
As a result of this assignment, I have learned many things. As I dove into the background of this letter I was enriched by the history present at this period of time. At the time, post-World War II and pre-Civil Rights Movement, I was not aware of the growing communist problem. I found that an alarming number of American citizens had communist ideals. This became a threat to national security because the government was very much a democracy and very much opposed to the opposite, communism. I thought it was interesting that the communists made a secret movement to join and infiltrate the Progressive Party, which caused an internal investigation by the FBI. I have also learned that history may be right in front of you, you just have look for it. The reason I say this is because I have lived in Iowa for eight years now and was unaware of some of the important historical moments that happened right here in this beautiful state.
Not only have I learned many historical things, but I have also increased my personal skills as well. My skill of being able to rhetorically analyze a document has improved. At first, my article did not make sense and did not seem to have much information. As I picked apart the letter piece by piece, I found critical information that helped me dissect the rhetoric. The critical information included findings such as dates, authors, approval and record-keeping stamps, and the subject line. Once I was able to find the information necessary to analyzing the article I had the opportunity to dig deeper, find out even more, and improve my research skills. I used the University of Iowa Libraries Women’s Archives to aid me in my research. Through the exploration of this site I was able to find information about Edna Griffin. This site also appeals to the rhetoric device of ethos. By ethos, I mean the credibility of the site. Because the information comes straight from the university library, it can be deemed accurate. Also, the ending of the website name is “.edu.” Generally, educational sites are labeled as “.edu” and therefore hold credible information. While it is common that the information is true, it’s best to not always assume so, and go ahead and double check the facts. The ability to find credible proof to back up your claims is an important skill to have. Overall, this assignment has further improved my research, rhetorical and analytical skills.
Fuller, Al. “The FBI and the Communist Party” The Other Half of History. The Other Half of History, 1
May 2011. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://historyhalf.com/the-fbi-and-the-communist-party/>
“Progressive Party (United States, 1948)” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Oct. 2015. Web. 9 Oct.
“Finding Aid” The University of Iowa Libraries Iowa Women’s Archives. The University of Iowa 2013.
Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://sdrc.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa/findingaids/html/GriffinEdna.html>
Original Letter and Transcription Link