The History of Surveillance and the Black Community

By Nadia Kayyali

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X waiting for press conference, March 26, 1964. (Photo: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)

Martin Luther King and Malcolm X waiting for press conference, March 26, 1964. (Photo: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)

February is Black History Month and that history is intimately linked with surveillance by the federal government in the name of “national security.”  Indeed, the history of surveillance in the African-American community plays an important role in the debate around spying today and in the calls for a congressional investigation into that surveillance. Days after the first NSA leaks emerged last June, EFF called for a new Church Committee. We mentioned that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the targets of the very surveillance that eventually led to the formation of the first Church Committee. This Black History Month, we should remember the many African-American activists who were targeted by intelligence agencies. Their stories serve as cautionary tales for the expanding surveillance state.

The latest revelations about surveillance are only the most recent in a string of periodic public debates around domestic spying perpetrated by the NSA, FBI, and CIA. This spying has often targeted politically unpopular groups or vulnerable communities, including anarchists, anti-war activists, communists, and civil rights leaders.

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