As U.S. imperialism expanded during the twentieth century, the modern national security state came into being and became a major force in the suppression of Black dissent. This Article reexamines the modern history of civil liberties law and policy and contends that Black Americans have historically had uneven access to the right to freedom of speech in the United States. Through archival research and legal analysis, I conduct four case studies that are representative of key trends in Black dissent after World War II: Black Communism, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement, and the Movement for Black Lives. These case studies illustrate how the modern national security state has affected the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and managed Black dissent in the United States, particularly when such speech is anti-imperialist or anticapitalist.
I argue that the modern national security state is one of the power structures undergirding free-speech jurisprudence. It operates in concert with free-speech colorblindness, a phenomenon I track in the final Part of this Article, to suppress domestic dissent by subordinated racial groups. The case studies suggest that the practical consequence of free-speech colorblindness is the narrowing of speech rights for Black dissenters and the overall containment of Black dissent.
* Assistant Professor of Law, Albany Law School; A.B., University of Chicago, 2002; J.D., UCLA School of Law, 2009, specialization in Critical Race Studies; Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2022. This Article benefitted from discussions with and comments from several people, and I thank them for their thoughtful engagement and generous support. Among them are Hiroshi Motomura, Omnia El Shakry, Kathy Olmsted, Sudipta Sen, Robin D.G. Kelley, Devon Carbado, Cheryl I. Harris, Catherine Fisk, George Bisharat, Hentyle Yapp, Aziz Rana, Greg Ablavsky, Addie Rolnick, Angela Harris, Priscilla Ocen, Anthony Farley, Sunaina Maira, Navid Farnia, Eyad Kishawi, and the students of Loyola Law School’s Race & Law Colloquium. The Stanford Law Review editors provided insightful editing support and commentary. Carey Lamprecht, Tania Balan-Gaubert, and Medea Asatiani contributed invaluable research assistance. Funding for this project came from the UC Davis Department of History, the Mellon Initiative on Racial Capitalism, the Mellon Initiative on Border Studies, the Reed Smith Research Fellowship at UC Davis, and the Social Science Research Fellowship at UC Davis.