After 100 years, the FBI has finally recognized James Wormley Jones as the agency’s first African American special agent. He was appointed in December 1919 just 11 years after the creation of the organization that ultimately evolved into the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He began his career, however, in 1905 as a police officer in Washington, DC.
In 1917, he left the force to serve in the U.S. Army during World War I where he was trained as an officer and assigned as the captain of Company F of the 368th Infantry, 92nd Division. His brother served under him as a lieutenant, and as one of many segregated African American forces in the Army, they were sent to Europe and fought in France, near the Belgium and German borders.
After the war ended, Jones returned to D.C. and was promoted as an FBI special agent. He was assigned to the General Intelligence Division, created in response to terrorist bombings; his experience fit well with the mission.
Jones left the Bureau in April 1923, joining the Pittsburgh Police Department as a detective. Sadly though, he died in December 1958 at the age of 74.
Hundreds of African American special agents have since followed in his footsteps, including the first African American woman, Sylvia Mathis, who joined the special agent ranks in 1976.
In February 2019, the FBI honored Jones and the countless others that followed him in their pursuit to serve the American people as FBI special agents. The agency launched a year-long initiative to commemorate the 100-year history of African American special agents’ service to the FBI and the United States through a coordinated campaign called “Our History, Our Service”.