A Brief History of the FBI’s Most Wanted Lists


Assata Shakur is just the latest in a long list of black revolutionaries who have been among the FBI's most sought-after criminal suspects, Jamilah King writes at Colorlines.

History of the Lists

To understand how the FBI's Most Wanted lists work, it's important to know how they were developed. At their core, the lists are tools for publicity. They don't confer any new legal status, according to the FBI's website.

The idea for a most wanted list was born in 1949 during a conversation between FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and a reporter, William Kinsey Hutchinson, who discussed ways to capture the agency's "toughest guys." As recounted in an interactive timeline at the Washington Post, that discussion eventually gave way to a published article and, on March 14, 1950, the FBI officially announced that it would use the list to help in its search for the country's most dangerous criminals …

The 'Chosen' Ones

Each person who is listed as an alleged terrorist by the FBI has been indicted by a federal grand jury. For the Most Wanted Fugitives list, meanwhile, each one of the FBI's 56 national field offices submits candidates. The lists are distributed in public places like post offices.

The average award for someone on one of the Most Wanted lists is $100,000; the FBI is offering $1 million for Shakur (the New Jersey State Police have matched the FBI's money, bringing the total amount to $2 million). Suspected terrorists remain on the list until they're caught, killed, or exonerated …

Read Jamilah King's entire piece at Colorlines.

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