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Terkel applied for FBI job in 1930s

The agency later began building a file on the author-activist as a suspected communist.

November 18, 2009|Kristen Mack

CHICAGO — Studs Terkel, the American storyteller, author, radio host, actor and activist, sought a job at the FBI, according to recently released documents.

Terkel, who died last year at 96, applied for a job in the FBI's fingerprints division in the 1930s. "It's a non-agent position," FBI spokesman Bill Carter said. "You would have to go through a background investigation, the same as you would for an agent, but you don't have arrest powers."

Instead of hiring Terkel, the agency ended up amassing a file on him. The FBI spent 45 years tracking him as a suspected communist, according to the 147 pages released from his 269-page dossier. The file was obtained by the New York City News Service under an act that requires the FBI to release certain documents to the public after an individual has died.

Terkel's paper trail started in 1945. It references Terkel speaking at a Paul Robeson rally in Chicago and quotes a source who questioned Terkel's "loyalty to the United States" because he worked with the BBC on a piece about the "sordid side of life in Chicago."

His file ends in 1990, when agents cut and pasted a Wall Street Journal article quoting his reaction to financier Michael Milken's junk-bond scandal.

"We live in a corrupt, amoral moment," Terkel said. "There are a million Milkens. He's reflective of our society at this time. People have lost their sense of outrage."

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kmack@tribune.com

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