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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 193

The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee is about Dan Freeman, a man who ends up being the first African American CIA agent. After working for the agency for many years and being promoted through several ranks, Freeman retires and goes back to Chicago, where he starts...

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The Spook Who Sat by the Door by Sam Greenlee is about Dan Freeman, a man who ends up being the first African American CIA agent. After working for the agency for many years and being promoted through several ranks, Freeman retires and goes back to Chicago, where he starts working with youth. Many of his donors and white superiors at work consider him easy to please and naive. However, what they do not know is that Freeman is secretly training street gangs in preparation for an upcoming insurgence.

Dan Freeman’s life changes when a congressional representative who lacks African American supporters decides to run for office. To increase his popularity in the black community, he comes up with an exposé against the CIA. The exposé reveals that the agency does not have enough African American officers. Therefore, the CIA decides to recruit African Americans. However, hoping to prevent people from qualifying, they intentionally make the process very difficult. Nonetheless, Dan Freeman, who participated in the Korean War, passes the interview. He has an underlying motive: to ensure that black people’s rights are respected and that there is equality for all.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 732

Dan Freeman’s elaborate plot against a racist society is set in motion by Senator Gilbert Hennington’s willingness to do anything to win reelection. Concluding that he cannot win without the black vote, he decides to campaign for the integration of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), figuring that the CIA is vulnerable after the Bay of Pigs and U-2 disasters. This cynical maneuvering for public attention works, and Hennington is reelected.

Freeman is one of the twenty-three black men chosen for training, with the understanding that only one will complete the program. The CIA plans to make the training so difficult that no one will last. Freeman, the only candidate without a typical middle-class African American background, survives because disadvantage has given him the strength of will to prevail. His biggest test comes in the hand-to-hand combat sessions taught by the racist Calhoun, whom he defeats and disgraces. Hennington himself is indifferent to the fruits of his protest. He had won his election, and for another six years he was safe.

Having learned how to be a spy, Freeman employs these skills in the CIA not toward his country’s enemies but against his employers, playing to their racist expectations and manipulating them. He is given a menial desk job at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as “top secret reproduction section chief,” a job that simply entails operating a ditto machine. He is asked to give a tour to a Senate committee, including Hennington. After seemingly flattering Hennington, he is promoted to special assistant to the CIA director. His job was “to be black and conspicuous as the integrated Negro of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America. As long as he was there, one of an officer corps of thousands, no one could accuse the CIA of not being integrated.” Since this tokenism is his primary function, Freeman fails to receive another promotion over the next four years, but he takes advantage of his position to study guerrilla tactics in Algeria and other Third World countries and sees such warfare in action when he accompanies his boss, known only as “the general,” on four trips to South Vietnam. Greenlee based Freeman’s CIA experiences in part on his eight years as a U.S. Information Agency officer in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Having learned all he needs, Freeman resigns after five years in the CIA and becomes a social worker in his old Chicago neighborhood for the South Side Youth Foundation, an organization run by white liberals. He concentrates on the most volatile of the street gangs, the Cobras, whose warlord he had been when he was a teenager known as Turk. Freeman masks his true intentions by convincing his boss that he is a hedonist motivated more by materialism than by idealism.

Believing that the Cobras hold potential for learning guerrilla tactics, Freeman studies them from a distance before getting their attention by coming onto their territory and effectively defending himself when attacked by their three leaders. He promises to train them to “mess with” white people. Freeman theorizes that although it ordinarily would take three to five years to build an underground fighting force, the Cobras have always been an underground organization. He expects them to form the core of a five-hundred-member Chicago revolutionary group and hopes to recruit similar forces in other major cities, all the while pretending to be working to subdue the gangs. The Cobras camouflage their intentions by feigning having retreated into the passivity of heroin addiction.

The Cobras put Freeman’s training into practice and equip themselves by robbing a bank and an armory. When a policeman kills a fifteen-year-old boy and civil unrest spreads, Freeman’s troops slowly begin taking advantage of the situation. Soon, they blow up the mayor’s office to emphasize their seriousness of purpose and sophistication of attack. Freeman identifies himself to the press as “Uncle Tom, the official spokesman for the Black Freedom Fighters of America.” The attack then shifts to sniper shootings of police and soldiers, and units in twelve cities are ordered into action. After being betrayed by one of the women in his life, Freeman is confronted by Pete Dawson, a policeman and friend of his youth, and they fatally wound each other. Dying, Freeman knows that the revolutionary movement he set in motion will be successful without him.

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