The Secret Service, the Ku Klux Klan and the Man Who Masterminded America’s First War on Terror
by Charles Lane
Pub Date 09 Apr 2019
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Freedom’s Detective reveals the untold story of the Reconstruction-era United States Secret Service and their battle against the Ku Klux Klan, through the career of its controversial chief, Hiram C. Whitley
In the years following the Civil War, a new battle began. Newly freed African American men had gained their voting rights and would soon have a chance to transform Southern politics. Former Confederates and other white supremacists mobilized to stop them. Thus, the KKK was born.
After the first political assassination carried out by the Klan, Washington power brokers looked for help in breaking the growing movement. They found it in Hiram C. Whitley. He became head of the Secret Service, which had previously focused on catching counterfeiters and was at the time the government’s only intelligence organization. Whitley and his agents led the covert war against the nascent KKK and were the first to use undercover work in mass crime—what we now call terrorism—investigations.
Like many spymasters before and since, Whitley also had a dark side. His penchant for skulduggery and dirty tricks ultimately led to his involvement in a conspiracy that would bring an end to his career and transform the Secret Service.
Populated by intriguing historical characters—from President Grant to brave Southerners, both black and white, who stood up to the Klan—and told in a brisk narrative style, Freedom’s Detective reveals the story of this complex hero and his central role in a long-lost chapter of American history.
“Charles Lane’s Freedom’s Detective is a riveting narrative history about early attempts to crackdown and even stamp out the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of domestic terrorism. The amount of original research Lane conducted is prodigious. His prose style is irresistible. An overall magnificent read!”
—Douglas Brinkley, Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities, Professor of History at Rice University, and author of Rosa Parks
"Freedom's Detective reads like a movie, and I'd love to see it. As the KKK rose from the ashes of the Confederacy, the American government rose to the occasion in the form of the much-opposed Secret Service. Charles Lane's biography of former-slave-hunter-turned-undercover-agent Hiram Whitley is a much-needed cautionary tale in an age of rising tyranny - that we must hold our criminals and our cops accountable for their actions."
—Jared A. Brock, author of The Road to Dawn: Josiah Henson and the Story That Sparked the Civil War
“With a reporter's eye for telling detail, Lane has unearthed a hidden gem of a story. Gripping and insightful, Freedom's Detective reads like a first-rate historical novel. Hiram Whitley, the colorful protagonist, made his mark in the late 1800s, but his story has stunning relevance in 21st Century America.”
—Julie Cohen, producer of RBG
“Charles Lane has brilliantly reconstructed the hidden history of America’s first Secret Service and its ingenious war on the Klan. At its heart is America’s very own 007: the charming, roguish, and ultimately heroic figure of Hiram C. Whitley. Settle in with this page-turner, and let the story sweep you away.”
—Gary Gerstle, author of Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American Government from the Founding to the Present
“I thought I knew how the Klan was destroyed after the Civil War, but after reading Charles Lane’s wonderful book, I realized I knew almost nothing."
—Laurence Leamer, author of The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan