Sunday Read: Trailblazing Laws, Government Surveillance Programs, and Recent Black Whistleblowers

National Whistleblower Center
5 min readFeb 12, 2024
This article highlighting the contributions of black whistleblowers was sent as part of NWC’s “Sunday Read” series. For more information like this, please join our mailing list.

As part of our observance of Black History Month, National Whistleblower Center (NWC) continues to highlight the contributions of black whistleblowers and the federal laws designed to protect against discrimination.

In this Sunday Read, we will also revisit a 20th century program which — once exposed — demonstrated how the black community was wrongfully targeted by the government.

Discrimination and Whistleblower Law

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces many laws that protect against discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person that complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

This year, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act. Unfortunately, this bedrock of federal protections is still violated by individuals, organizations, and institutions. Violations of anti-discrimination laws are reportable to the agencies listed below at the United States Department of Labor (DOL):

  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
  • Wage and Hour Division
  • Veterans’ Employment and Training service

The DOL’s Civil Rights Center (CRC) is also in charge of overseeing discrimination laws. It does not matter if you are a customer wanting or needing services; an employee of the business, organization, or office; a person applying for a job; or a member of the general public. If you have contact with a program that is covered by one of the laws, the program cannot discriminate against you.

Violations of anti-discrimination laws, especially systemic violations, are reportable. The CRC offers this poster to explain your rights and where to file a complaint if you believe the law has been violated.

The Impact of COINTELPRO on Black Communities

Many ethnic, racial, social, and political groups who suspected they were being surveilled by the government in the latter half of the 20th century had good reason to follow their instincts.

In 1956, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) began its Counterintelligence Program — also known as COINTELPRO — initially to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States during the Cold War.

COINTELPRO was expanded in the 1960s to include other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan — which had engaged in terrorist activities but not labeled by the FBI as a terrorist group. The program expanded to target a wide range of groups, including civil rights organizations, feminist groups, socialist and communist organizations, and anti-war activists. Additional groups under surveillance were the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party as part of what it labeled as Black Extremist group.

COINTELPRO tactics included wiretapping, infiltration by undercover agents, spreading false rumors, harassment through the legal system, and even inciting violence and conflict within targeted groups which are available on the FBI’s Vault page.

All COINTELPRO operations ended in 1971. The COINTELPRO whistleblower was William Mark Felt Sr., who was known as “Deep Throat,” the famous anonymous source who provided critical information to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post during their investigation of the Watergate scandal, which eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Felt was the second-in-command at the FBI during the early 1970s and his decision to leak information about COINTELPRO and the Watergate scandal played a significant role in exposing government abuses and holding officials accountable for their actions.

On the FBI’s Vault Page, the agency noted: “Although limited in scope, COINTELPRO was later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons.”

Marlon Ray, Education Whistleblower, Honored During National Whistleblower Day 2023

NWC hosts an annual National Whistleblower Appreciation Day celebration in Washington, D.C. to honor the contributions of whistleblowers around the world who have bravely stepped forward to expose waste, fraud, and abuse. The day is also used a forum to advocate for the White House to formally recognize July 30th as National Whistleblower Day in the United States.

Hundreds of attendees, experts, legislators, and whistleblowers commenced on Capitol Hill and at the NWC office in Georgetown on July 27, 2023, to discuss accomplishments, updates and share strategies on strengthening claims and the landscape overall.

One such honoree was Marlon Ray, during that afternoon’s session, “Recognizing Whistleblowers.” Ray, a former D.C. Public School (DCPS) administrator, blew the whistle on what he believed to be discriminatory practices throughout the DCPS system which disadvantaged predominantly Black students from east of the Anacostia River. Ray was fired from his position.

Ray’s case exemplifies why these efforts are so important. As noted by Whistleblower Network News, fired alongside Ray was Carolyn Jackson-King, former principal of Lawrence E. Boone Elementary, who reported and protested the use of a teacher training program that discriminated against Black students. Ray and Principal Jackson-King, were highly respected administrators at Boone. Both are now suing DCPS for retaliation.

For his bravery, Ray received a Proclamation from Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recognizing July 30th, 2023 as Whistleblower Appreciation Day.

Marlon Ray follows Jackie Garrick who received a similar proclamation from Florida’s Escambia County in 2022. And, in 2019 Mayor Bowser recognized National Whistleblower Day in 2019 as a result of whistleblower Marcel Reid’s relentless efforts.

NWC advocates for the permanent federal recognition of National Whistleblower Day and these proclamations show that change in black communities is within reach.

NWC annually organizes a campaign calling for the permanent recognition of National Whistleblower Day. While the Senate has designated July 30 as National Whistleblower appreciation Day annually, the whistleblowers believe that President Biden should sign an executive order permanently establishing National Whistleblower Day and requiring all federal agencies to recognize the day.

Support NWC

NWC fights to bolster whistleblower programs and raise awareness about the value of whistleblowers. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit our work is made possible with the support of our generous donors. Please consider donating $100 today to help us continue to educate the public about whistleblower experiences and the role whistleblowers play in putting an end to fraud and discrimination. Donors of $100 or more will receive a copy of Rules for Whistleblowers: A Handbook for Doing What’s Right, written by NWC Chairman Stephen M. Kohn, Esq.

This story was written by Justin Smulison, a professional writer, podcaster, and event host based in New York.

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National Whistleblower Center is the leading nonprofit working with whistleblowers around the world to fight corruption and protect people and the environment.