Thursday, January 28, 2010
After an outstanding career in law enforcement, Abraham Bolden was appointed by JFK to be the first African American presidential Secret Service agent, where he served with distinction. They met by chance when JFK used the men’s room to which he had been assigned as security. Bolden was a crucial part of a the Secret Service effort that prevented an attempt to assassinate JFK in Chicago, three weeks before Dallas.
But the dream quickly turned sour when Bolden found himself regularly subjected to open hostility and blatant racism. More of a concern was the White House team’s irresponsible approach to security. While on his tour of presidential duty, Bolden witnessed firsthand the White House agents’ long-rumored lax approach to their job. Drinking on duty, abandoning key posts—this was not a team that appeared to take their responsibility to protect the life of the president particularly seriously.
Soon after the assassination, he received orders that hint at “an effort to withhold, or at least to the color, the truth.” He discovered that evidence was being kept from the Warren Commission and when he took action, found himself charged with “conspiracy to sell a secret government file” and imprisoned for more than five years, mostly in the psychiatric ward of the Springfield Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. In September 1969, after a short stint at a prisoncamp in Alabama, Bolden was finally granted parole.
Nearly 45 years later, Abraham Bolden has come forward to tell his story. A gripping memoir substantiated by recently declassified government documents, The Echo from Dealey Plaza is the story of the terrible price paid by one man for his commitment to truth and justice, as well as a shocking new perspective on the circumstances surrounding the death of JFK. It was an honor for me to feature him as a guest on “The Real Deal” and to have this opportunity to present aspects of his personal experiences to the public.
Abraham Bolden has received The 2008 Baker Street Tankard Award for “Pursuance of Truth and Justice”, The 2008 Black Excellence Award for “Outstanding achievement in non fiction literature”, The 2009 Alpha Phi Alpha Presidential Inaugural Award for “Exemplary leadership, service, and commitment and courage”, The 2009 Carter G. Woodson “Living Black History Award”, The 2009 St. Louis Gateway Classics “Walk of Fame” inductee, The Sodexo Lifetime Achievement Award for ” Excellence and outstanding service”, and the 2009 Citation from The Honorable United States Senator Roland W. Burris for courage in challenging injustice.
JFK & the Secret Service – Abraham Bolden interviewed on “The Real Deal” with Jim Fetzer (28 December 2009) [Go to original page for audiofile]
The Echo From Dealey Plaza – Abraham Bolden interviewed on “The Night Fright Show” (25 November 2009) [Go to original page for audiofile]
Mr. Bolden has provided extracts from his book for publication here.
Introduction, page 1
I knew John Kennedy. I shook his hand and looked into his eyes, and served, for a brief but critical time, at his side. I sensed in my heart, as many people did, that he understood the troubles of the common man, and shared the pain of all downtrodden and oppressed people. He labored to make the promises of a better country a reality for all Americans. Born into great wealth and privilege, he did this not for any personal gain, but simply because he knew it was the right thing to do. He wanted to do his best to foster equality of opportunity for all the citizens under his charge, and even those beyond our borders. John F. Kennedy entrusted me with his life, making me the first African-American to serve on the Secret Service White House Detail. No one can ever take that honor away from me.
Chapter 1, page 3
I came into the Secret Service in 1960, after a number of years in law enforcement, first for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and then as an officer in the Illinois State Police. It was in that capacity that I first encountered Special Agent in Charge (of the Springfield, IL, office) Fred Backstrom of the United States Secret Service. John Kennedy was on his way to Peoria for a campaign stop, and I had been assigned to escort SAIC Backstrom around Peoria, to help make security preparations.
As we rode along one of the intended motorcade routes, I turned to Agent Backstrom. “Are there any Negroes in the Secret Service now?” I asked.
Backstrom and I had worked together before, and were on friendly terms. “I don’t think so, Abraham, but I’m not sure. I heard that there may be one in New York or New Jersey, but I’ve never met him,” he replied. “I can tell you this: We are looking for new agents and if you’re interested, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t apply. I can send you an application in the mail, and the civil service administration will guide you along he way.” He volunteered to send me an application.
We went back to our duties, but a few weeks later, I received the application in the mail, just as Agent Backstrom had promised. In the early fall of 1960, I drove down to Springfield, where I was escorted from the Secret Service headquarters to take the civil service test. I learned several weeks later that I had just missed passing the test, but the next time SAIC Backstrom came through Peoria, in early September 1960, about a month before Kennedy was to visit, he stopped by my house. Backstrom suggested that I could enter the Secret Service under a Schedule A appointment, meaning that my previous experience would qualify me to become a probationary agent.
Chapter 1, pages 4, 5
I first saw John Kennedy when he came through Peoria on a campaign swing in October, 1960. I was assigned to traffic control, and caught a glimpse of the young Senator sitting perched atop the back seat of a big white Lincoln convertible as his motorcade came in from the airport. I watched Kennedy hop down from the car about fifty feet away from me to shake hands with locals crowded along the side of the road. As his car stopped, agents from the convertible directly behind and fanned out to protect him as he waded into the excited crowd.
The following spring, John Kennedy was now President, and I myself had been through training at the Department of the Treasury, under which the Secret Service resides. The President was scheduled to visit Chicago on April 28th, for a thank-you dinner with Mayor Daley at McCormick Place. Daley’s political machine had helped deliver a victory to Kennedy, through means not everyone considered legitimate. An advance detail of Secret Service agents worked with the local office to plan security, and assigned the Chicago field agents to protective various duties and protective positions. While some agents got the coveted spots inside the McCormick Place banquet room near the President, my assignment was to guard a basement restroom that had been set aside for Kennedy’s exclusive use while he was there. I searched the bathroom and the surrounding area, and when I was satisfied that it secure, I quietly took up my post.
At about 8:30, a half-hour after the event was scheduled to begin, I heard a sudden commotion at the top of the stairs near the restroom.
Before I knew it, John F. Kennedy was striding toward the restroom, surrounded by an impressive entourage, including Mayor Daley, Governor Otto Kerner, Senator Paul Douglas, Congressman William Dawson, and a handful of prominent local politicians. As he got to the door, the President surprised me by stopping directly in front of me and looking me in the eye with a slight smile creasing his lips.
“Are you a Secret Service agent or one of Mayor Daley’s finest?” he asked, causing the Mayor to chuckle lightly.
Collecting myself, I replied, “I’m a Secret Service Agent, Mr. President.”
“He’s assigned to the Chicago office,” a more senior agent offered. “His name is Abraham Bolden.”
Kennedy nodded slightly in acknowledgment and continued on in his crisp Boston accent. “Has there ever been a Negro agent on the Secret Service White House Detail, Mr. Bolden?”
“Not to my knowledge, Mr. President.”
“Would you like to be the first?” Kennedy asked, his lights twinkling under the bright hotel lights.
I didn’t try to hide my enthusiasm. Smiling broadly and nodding my head, I answered, “Yes, sir, Mr. President.” Moments later, the band struck up “Hail to the Chief.” The air in McCormick place was charged with flashing cameras and the halls echoed with thunderous applause as the proud young President entered the hall.
Chapter 5, pages 37, 38
Agents were breaking out the drinks. Henderson sat on the living-room couch, opened a beer and leveled a cold, hard stare at me, which I did my best to ignore. He kept it up through two or three quick beers, until he suddenly spoke.
“I’m going to tell you something, and I don’t want you ever to forget it.” The sound of the South was heavy in his voice.
“You’re a nigger. You were born a nigger, and when you die, you’ll still be a nigger. You will always be nothing but a nigger. So act like one!” Henderson spaced the words out slowly for emphasis, but his voice was rising.
The words hung in the room, as every agent stared silently at Harvey Henderson. He had moved his body to the edge of couch. His feet were flat on the floor and he was clutching his beer bottle. You could hear him breathing hard through his nostrils. He was like an animal, poised to spring forward if I made any move toward him.
If I had ever doubted that Henderson had planted that memo and cartoon back in the White House, I knew it for certain now, as surely as I knew that he was baiting me, trying to lure me into a fight. Thoughts of Jackie Robinson raced through my mind. I do not mean to equate myself with a hero of Robinson’s stature, but in that moment, I thought about the years of locker-room taunts that he had endured, and the many times his white teammates had tried to pick fights with him, just so that they could humiliate him. I’d dealt with racism my entire professional life, once even having to pull my gun on a motorist who refused to be ticketed by a “nigger.” But here I was faced with a representative of my own nation’s government, the acting head of our President’s personal guard.. my supervisor. And I’m sure he wanted nothing more than to beat me bloody, but he also wanted me to disgrace myself by losing control. I eyed Harvey Henderson-a big, powerful man, drunk and full of hatred-and knew that if we were to go at it, there could be no mercy. I would have to send him to his God before he sent me to mine.
I looked him squarely in the eyes. “I love you, too, Harvey,” I said, and walked out to the porch.
“You shouldn’t have said that, Harvey,” said agent Tucker,, who then followed me outside.
“Don’t pay any attention to him, Abe,” Tucker told me. “He gets like that when he’s drinking.” Tucker went back into the cottage. I kept on walking for a long while. When I got back to the cottage, I sat a while longer on the porch steps, weary in body and soul, and realized that I was ready to go back to Chicago. My mother had taught me not to remain where I was clearly not wanted.
11/22/2007 ABC I-Team: Kennedy Assassination Thwarted
Weeks Before His Death – interview by Chuck Goudie
Chapter 12, page 161
Now, suddenly, Judge Perry rose from his seat. He stood behind his bench and raised his arms as if to make some kind of benediction.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he said, scowling. “I will now exercise a prerogative that I have as a Judge that I seldom exercise. I will express to you and comment upon the evidence. In my opinion, the evidence sustains a verdict of Guilty on counts one, two and three of the indictment.”[i] His face grew red, and his breath came hard and fast, as if he were exerting himself.
The Judge told the jury that they could disagree with him if they chose to do so.
“Now, with that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, you may now retire and reconsider the evidence in light of this Court’s instructions,” the Judge ended.[ii]
I turned quickly to George Howard to ask what was going on, but Judge Perry glowered at us, his face contorted with rage. It was clear to every soul in that courtroom that this Federal District Judge wanted me convicted. He sent the jury back into their room, from which we could hear shouting, and even some crying, for the next hour, until they returned and the foreman once again announced that they were still deadlocked, eleven-to-one for conviction. The lone juror, Mrs. Anna B. Hightower, sat still and quiet, her jaw clenched and her arms folded across her chest.
[i] U.S. v Bolden, 1st trial, Jury Deliberation, (Tr page 6) July 11, 1964,
[ii] U.S. v Bolden, 1st trial, Jury Deliberation, (Tr page 6) July 11, 1964,
Chapter 14, pages 198, 199
On re-direct, Oliver asked Spagnoli if had ever committed perjury in a Federal Criminal trial in the past and Spagnoli acknowledged that he had. They then produced a piece of paper that had been torn out of a legal pad and had it marked as an exhibit. Spagnoli testified that he had been in Sikes’ office when Sikes drew up the document.
“What was the purpose that he gave you for writing up such a document?” Oliver asked.
“So I would remember what to say in the Bolden trial,” Spagnoli answered.[iii]
The record showed that Sikes leaped to his feet and objected, but got nowhere. Judge Perry allowed Oliver to rebut the accusations about Spagnoli’s credibility.
Oliver continued, “After he wrote it up, did he give it to you?”
At this point, Judge Perry interrupted and asked Spagnoli directly, “How did you come into possession of it, if he did not give it to you?”
“I took it.”[v]
“What was the purpose of your studying the document?” Oliver now asked.
“To remember the lies in there,”[vi] Spagnoli answered bluntly.
Standing in front of the stunned onlookers in the courtroom, Oliver pointed at the document in his hand and kept probing. “Mr. Spagnoli, I call your attention to certain dates enumerated on this exhibit. I call your particular attention to the fourth line down, a date, Wednesday, 5/13. Do you see the notation that follows that Wednesday, 5.13, ‘Call from Martineau?’” Did that call occur on that day?”
Just reading it made me shout out loud, “Dammit!” Finally, the facts that I knew to be true were coming to the surface.
When Oliver moved on, and began asking if Spagnoli had ever given testimony contrary to testimony he gave in this case that he gambled for a living, Richard Sikes strenuously objected, on the grounds that Oliver was “impeaching his own witness.”
[iii] U.S. v D’Antonio, 64 CR 300, (Tr page 6269), dated January 20, 1965
[iv] Ibid, page 6272
[v] Ibid, page 6272
[vi] Ibid, page 6272
[vii] Ibid, page 6274
Chapter 15, page 215
“Well, it has been brought to this court’s attention, during the oral arguments of the case, that one of the witnesses against the defendant has accused you of soliciting perjured testimony that was given in the trial. I called you here so that you may personally answer the accusation. The counsel for this defendant has stated in his brief, and during oral argument, that you have failed to answer this serious question that reflects negatively on the United States Government.” Hastings dramatically emphasized this last piece. “Now I ask you, did you solicit perjured testimony by one witness, Joseph Spagnoli, in any of the Bolden trials in the court below?”
Sikes shifted his weight from one foot to another nervously. “Your Honor, I want to say—“
“That question can be answered yes or no,” Hastings interrupted. “Either you did or you did not. This question needs to be answered now so that this court can make a fair ruling concerning this issue on appeal. I ask the question again: Did you solicit perjured testimony by Joseph Spagnoli in any of the Bolden trials before the court of District Judge J. Sam Judge Perry?”[viii] Sikes swallowed hard. He glanced over his shoulder at his colleagues Crowley and Hanrahan.
“Your Honor,” he finally answered, “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that my answer might tend to incriminate me.”[ix]
“You are refusing to answer on the grounds of self-incrimination?” the Chief Judge asked in a loud voice.
“Yes, sir, Your Honor,” said Sikes, lowering his eyes.
“Very well, then. We will look into this matter and depending on what this court finds, someone might go to prison. We are going to get to the bottom of this,” Hastings declared to the shocked spectators in the courtroom. He turned to Attorney Smith and asked, “Based upon the allegations of Joseph Spagnoli, do you think that the assistant government attorney should be prosecuted and incarcerated?”
[ix] No Transcript of the proceedings before the U.S. Court of Appeals (14907) could be located; However on June 29, 1966, U. S. v Bolden, 64 CR 324, Motion to Reconsider the Sentence under Rule 35 page 8, Attorney Smith told the Court, “ We also have in this case, Your Honor, the fact. And I point out once again that it is Spagnoli that made this statement..that he accused the Government of subornation in this case, and the fact remains that to this day, two appeals to the Supreme Court, there is a question by the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals that..that charge by Spagnoli has never been denied, and we have this as another cloud over the case.”
Chapter 15, pages 227, 228
Judge Perry was done, and brought the hearing to a close. I saw Barbara quietly confer with Ray Smith, who then turned to talk to one of the Deputy Marshals. The Deputy led me down the corridor to the elevator, which we took to a small, clean holding cell, oddly situated behind a row of offices on one of the upper floors. The cell stood in a larger holding area, into which the guard brought Barbara. He left the two of us alone, separated only by the cold steel bars.
I reached through the bars to take her hand, in that instant felt finally overwhelmed by the terrible sadness of my fate. My whole body shook with rage and tears.
Barbara looked me in the eye. “If we’re going to make it through this, you’re going to have to be strong. You don’t have to worry about me and the children. I’m not going to let this break up our family. I saw what happened in court and how they treated you. I’ll be here when you come home. You don’t have to worry about that.” Barbara’s words were both consoling and reassuring. “You have to be strong because we are all counting on you to come back home to us. Nothing is going to happen out here, and I’m going to work and keep things together.”
Barbara came close and we kissed through the bars. “No matter what happens, be strong,” she said again. “I love you and the children love you. We will be waiting for you to return home to us. Be strong.”
When the guard finally led Barbara away, I washed my face and resolved to do exactly as Barbara said. From earliest childhood I had been told that grown men don’t cry, and I decided then that I was finished with crying, and that I would in fact be as strong as any man could be.
When they brought me back to the county jail, one of guards took me down to a basement cellblock. Four cells sat separated and secluded from the rest.
“This is what they call ‘Death Row,’” the guard told me. “Someone decided to keep you down here until you’re shipped out to a penitentiary.” He handed me over to the kindly looking black guard who stood watch there, saying, “This is Abraham Bolden. He used to be a government FBI man.”
An excerpt from “Conspiracy Files: The JFK Assassination”,
Discovery Channel, 5/11/06
Excerpt Chapter 17, pages 257, 258, 259
One day, I had just finished washing dishes and pots and was preparing to clean up the floor in my area, by filling a mop bucket with hot water, when I heard a voice behind me.
“What the fuck are you doing with my bucket?”
I turned around to see Kenny glaring at me. There were two mop buckets in our area of the prison that were plainly different from each other, and I was using Kenny’s regular bucket.
“Oh, is this the bucket you use?” I asked, knowing it wasn’t but trying to placate him.
“You know that that’s my goddamned bucket!” Kenny shouted. “Why you keep fucking with me?”
I could see that Kenny was either delusional or trying to start a fight with me, so I kept trying to make peace.
“I’m not fucking with you,” I said. “This is the bucket I’ve been using, but if you want it, I’ll go get the other one—“
“Why you keep fucking with me?”
Kenny stood blocking the door. As he took a step toward me, I saw that he was holding a long knife against his leg. Instantly, I lifted the bucket of hot water and drew it back, as if to throw it.
“What the hell is the matter with you, man?” I shouted back at him. “If you take another step toward me, I’m going to throw this fucking hot water in your face and burn all of the skin off your body.” He stopped, but the commotion had attracted several other inmates, and Mr. Angland, who ran the kitchen.
“What the hell is going on here?” Angland demanded. He looked first at me, saying, “Put that bucket down!”
“Kenny’s got a knife,” I protested. “He came at me with a knife. I’m not going to put this bucket down until you take that knife from Kenny.”
Angland reached his hand out, and said, “Kenny, give me that knife.” Kenny did as he was told. He also obeyed Angland’s order to return to his ward, but not without first shooting me a menacing look.
Angland turned back to me. “I want to see you in my office, Bolden.”
When we sat down in his office, Angland started in on me. “Bolden, you know that you can’t threaten the patients around here. You know better.”
“He came at with me with a knife. What am I supposed to do? Just stand there and not defend myself because he’s a patient?”
“The way I saw it, the two of you were threatening each other,” Angland said. “You had the bucket of water and he had the knife. The two of you threatened each other and that’s what I saw.”
“But you didn’t see the whole thing,” I insisted. “I was in the back room doing my work and suddenly this guy is standing in the doorway talking about a mop bucket. I know that he’s a patient, but I’m going to protect myself. He first came at me with the knife and that’s when I picked up the bucket of hot water to throw on him.”
“Well, you can’t discipline these patients. You should have come to me. You can’t threaten these patients. I’m going to have to write you up for it,” He stated angrily.
“You can write me up all you want to, but I’m not going to stand there and let any of these patients stab or butcher me with a knife. If I could have gotten out of the room, I would have come to you, but Kenny had the door blocked, and he was talking out of his mind about a mop bucket.”
“You go back to the dormitory now. You’ll be off tomorrow. When you come in Wednesday, you, me, and Kenny will get together and straighten out this problem,” Angland concluded.
Chapter 17, pages 265, 266
A guard poked me awake with his flashlight in the early morning, told me to get dressed, and marched me deep into what seemed like the bowels of the prison. We ended up in a corridor lined on both sides with heavy steel doors. The only windows visible were the tiny viewing windows above the tray slots in each of the doors. An awful stench, and the sounds of muffled screams and sobbing, filled the corridor. I knew where I was without anyone ever telling me: the dreaded 2-1 East, the psychiatric ward.
I shot questions at the guards-Why was I there? Had I been re-classified? Did anybody seriously think there was something wrong with me? But nobody would answer my questions, telling me to talk to the doctor when he came by. The guards took my belt and my shoelaces, and put me in a small, dark cell. Amazingly, this cell was actually a physical improvement over the isolation cell; it had a window that I could open to let in fresh air and its own washroom facilities.
The door to my cell slammed shut, leaving me alone with my thoughts. The only thing I knew for certain was that I had to let Barbara and my attorney, John Hosmer, know what had happened to me. There was no way I could sit quietly while the government locked me away interminably in some kind of asylum. The situation seemed ominous.
Before long, the prison added something new to my routine. Four uniformed officers entered my cell. One of them, a particularly burly guard, carried a tray filled with tiny white paper cups.
“Medication time,” he said, holding out a little cup in his big, meaty hand.
I felt suddenly weak and dizzy, as if I were caught in some terrible dream. I couldn’t move or speak.
“Come on, boy. We ain’t got all day,” he drawled.
“There’s got to be some mistake,” I said. “I’m not a patient. There’s got to be a mistake.”
“We ain’t makin’ no mistake, boy. The doctor ordered this to calm you down, I guess.”
Chapter 17, page 270
In the morning, as I was washing up, I smelled a faint odor of smoke. I could see no sign of fire outside my window, but through the small viewing window in the door, I thought I detected a slight haze in the air of the corridor. Suddenly, a guard rushed down the corridor, shouting “Fire! Fire in the cell block!” I heard another officer shout that one of the rooms at the end of the block was on fire, and then heard another answer that those rooms were unoccupied. Another odd and inexplicable circumstance.
The guards opened our cell doors and evacuated all of us to the dayroom. I felt so happy to be out of my little room—free, if you want to call it that, for the first time in over a week—that I didn’t react to the grotesque sight of so many drugged and possibly deranged men, dragged from their beds in various states of undress, draped over the tables and chairs. The fire was extinguished quickly, but I was allowed to linger in the dayroom for a while. As I looked around the room, I suddenly found myself staring into a familiar face. A man was gazing back at me intently, and purposefully. He didn’t seem to be over-medicated or crazy; he seemed to recognize me. It was the man who had stabbed the other inmate to death in the elevator in the basement by the officers’ kitchen.
He rose and walked to my table. I could see that he had gained some weight, and wore his hair cut much closer to his head, but it was definitely the same man.
“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” he asked as he sat down across from me.
“I don’t think so.”
“My name is James. What’s yours?”
Chapter 17, pages 277, 278
On September 25, 1969, with just four months to go before I would have completed my entire sentence and been freed from any further obligation to the government, I was granted parole. Of course, by paroling me, the government could keep me under their jurisdiction for another two years.
It was 3:30 in the morning when my Greyhound bus pulled into the station near Clark and Randolph Streets in Chicago. I could see the figure of a beautiful young woman, her form illuminated by the headlights of the bus, almost glowing in the fresh night air. I climbed down the steps of the bus and fell into Barbara’s arms. That embrace told me, finally, that my ordeal had come to an end.
My wife drove us south on Clark Street, crossing over to Michigan, steering us home. I remember opening the back door of my house, my own house, and being met by the happy squeals of my children, already awake and expecting me, bouncing all over the house, giggling with joy and shouting, “Daddy’s home! Daddy’s home!”
Daddy was home.