Planned Parenthood (previously The Birth Control League) is finally removing the name of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), its founder, from its Manhattan clinic — ending decades of denial about her horrid, racist views.
Only four years ago, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America did admit it was wrong of Sanger to speak to the Ku Klux Klan at Silver Lake, New Jersey in 1926. And to support the sterilisation of the disabled and “placing so-called illiterates, paupers, unemployable, criminals, prostitutes and dope fiends on farms and in open spaces as long as necessary for the strengthening and development of moral conduct.”
Sanger was supported by one of the most racist authors in America in the 1920’s, the Klansman Lothrop Stoddard, who was a founding member of the Board of Directors of Sanger’s American Birth Control League.
Sanger estimated that 15 million to 20 million Americans would be targeted in this regime of forced sterilisation and concentration camps. In Sanger, the humanitarian dream of a world without poverty and illness has deteriorated into a coercive world where the poor, the disabled and the addicted simply disappear.
But it refused to confront her words such as: “The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.”
It also downplayed her support for Buck v. Bell, the 1927 Supreme Court decision that declared constitutional the forced sterilisation of the “unfit.” That ruling allowed the maiming via involuntary hysterectomy of thousands of black women in the Jim Crow South.
In a letter of Dec. 10, 1939, to Clarence Gamble (cited here), she explains the nature of her organisation’s outreach to the African-American community: “The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to get 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.
Dethroning a cultural idol like Sanger is not easy. The problem goes deeper than the link between her birth control movement and the sexual revolution. Sanger represents a genteel prejudice shared by many members of America’s ruling class in the early 20th century. To face squarely the glacial eugenics of Sanger one must demythologize the Progressive movement’s pantheon: Theodore Roosevelt (who staunchly supported the eugenic research of the Cold Spring Harbor laboratories), extensive funding received from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family, who continued to make anonymous donations to Sanger’s causes, Woodrow Wilson (who as governor of New Jersey signed a law in 1911 mandating the forced sterilisation of “the feeble-minded”), and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (who in the Buck v. Bell case in 1927 declared forced-sterilisation statutes constitutional). Such biases have consequences. At least 60,000 American citizens were sterilised against their will under the weight of such mandates.
Planned Parenthood’s local branch says it’s also discussing replacing Sanger’s name on a street sign at Mott and Bleecker.
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