New Resource: Federal Surveillance of African Americans, 1920-1984

Black Americans of all political persuasions were subject to federal scrutiny, harassment and prosecution. The FBI enlisted black ‘confidential special informants’ to infiltrate a variety of organizations. Hundreds of documents in this collection were originated by such operatives. The reports provide a wealth of detail on ‘Negro’ radicals and their organizations that can be found nowhere else.

In addition to infiltration, the Bureau contributed to the infringement of First Amendment freedoms by making its agents a constant visible presence at radical rallies and meetings. Militant Socialist A. Philip Randolph was followed from city to city and The Messenger’s office was vandalized by zealous protectors of the nation’s security. A perusal of Bureau case files for this period indicates that black radicalism was one of the major preoccupations and targets of the federal investigatory network.

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