Alethea Pittman wanted to be an FBI agent. She thought she was well qualified, having just received her law degree—exactly what the Bureau was looking for, according to its recruitment brochures. Diploma in hand, Pittman was ready to be sworn in and collect her badge.
I first spotted Pittman in a host of eager faces in her first-year class at the University of Alabama School of Law, when I was on campus recruiting applicants for the Bureau. I noticed her because she asked a lot of good questions. I kept in touch with her over the next three years when I visited the school, and I came to know her as a hardworking, diligent student of the law, clear-headed, sensible, and eloquent. She is also African-American.
I spent thirty years as an agent in the FBI, and I enjoyed it. I made arrests, did surveillance, handled swat operations and hostage rescues, worked undercover, and was immersed in Cold War intrigues, counterintelligence, and anti-terrorism. My last assignment had brought me to Alethea Pittman.
In 1994 I was chosen by Louis Freeh, the director of the FBI, as one of thirty-one agents nationwide to bring the next generation of agents into the Bureau. I became the chief recruiter for the state of Alabama, a job that lasted until my retirement, in 1999. I looked forward to the opportunity, but my enthusiasm turned to frustration as Freeh and his staff at headquarters refused to change policies that were hurting our recruitment of African-American women. Other recruiters shared my dismay. The Bureau began welcoming minorities and women in 1972, after the death of Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had opposed their hiring. In 1994 there were 7,405 white male agents, 1,053 white female agents, and 440 black male agents, but only seventy-nine black female agents.