Michael King, Jr., commonly known to the world as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. omitted several truths in his lifetime, from plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation, to upholding the core family value of fidelity. His early pacifist approach to the Civil Rights Movement and willingness to place assimilation as the foremost goal of that righteous cause dampened my trust in the stability of the pedestal the Black community placed him on long ago; but, in his dedicated support to Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, he exemplified a bold courage that I appreciate immensely.
We’ve all heard the stories; more accurately, we’ve all been force fed the myth that Margaret Sanger was a racist villain on a one-woman crusade to staunch the births of Black and Brown babies in the United States. Yes, it is true that she was a devout eugenicist, determined through such means as segregation and sterilization to weed out “inferior” people in society. Sanger also allegedly believed that organized charities implemented to prolong and enhance the lives of impoverished members of society were counter-productive to population control. With these salient facts in mind, I find it ironic that Planned Parenthood’s most vocal detractors, the Grand Ole’ Party, share those beliefs, illuminating them in stark relief in every single discriminatory legislation they attempt to filibuster into existence.
In an attempt to play on the instinctive racial solidarity of the Black community, conservatives continue to tokenize the legacy of Marcus Garvey and his antagonistic view of birth control as proof of their sincere wish to do what is most beneficial for the African-American community. They continue to prop Sanger’s Negro Project up as the singular example of her nefarious intent, while ignoring the life-saving contributions of Planned Parenthood. In a letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble in 1939, after Garvey voiced his opposition to birth control, Sanger revealed a strategy that has haunted her organization to this day:
“We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. And the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
It reads horribly, doesn’t it?
The words written by Sanger makes it easy for accusations of racism, bigotry and prejudice to escape unabated. It makes it even easier for the truth to be buried beneath instinctive defense mechanisms that we have desperately sharpened and honed since the days of Jim and Jane Crow.
But let’s pull back the covers, shall we?
There are two equally powerful Sanger quotes that appear in Earl Conrad’s, “American Viewpoint on U.S Birth and Bias Control,” which was published in The Chicago Defender on September 22, 1945. Not surprisingly, they never quite seem to make the soundbite reel:
“What hangs over the South is that the Negro has been in servitude. The white southerner is slow to forget this. His attitude is the archaic of this age. Supremacist thinking belongs in a museum.”
“The big answer, as I see it, is the education of the white man. The white man is the problem. It is the same as with the Nazis. We must change the white attitudes. That is where it lies.”
In her memoir, Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography, on pages 366-367, Sanger details her harrowing experience meeting with the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey. When Sanger’s life’s work, with all of its contradictions, is viewed in context, what swiftly becomes evident is that her message of reproductive freedom and women’s absolute authority over their bodies extended well beyond the confines of the African-American community. According to her writings, Sanger was an avowed elitist who advocated for contraception, not abortion, and her eugenics philosophy encompassed the poor, mentally ill and disabled — regardless of color. But for conservatives to admit that, they would need to find a new boogey-man to spook Black women into voting against their own self-interests.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), said it best: “The conservatives want small government-small enough to fit in your uterus.” The Republican Party is attempting to eliminate every single public policy that financially assists those historically marginalized in this country, yet pretend to care about life. Their agenda appears to be to preserve a menial workforce for capital gain, yet on reproductive issues, the Black community at-large unwittingly supports that ideology, while decrying the discriminatory practices that are murdering our communities in large numbers.