Many Americans—black and white—are unaware of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s Negro Project. Sanger created this program in 1939, after the organization changed its name from the American Birth Control League (ABCL) to the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA). The aim of the program was to restrict—many believe exterminate—the black population. Under the pretense of “better health” and “family planning,” Sanger cleverly implemented her plan. What’s more shocking is Sanger’s beguilement of black America’s crème de la crème—those prominent, well educated and well-to-do—into executing her scheme. Some within the black elite saw birth control as a means to attain economic empowerment, elevate the race and garner the respect of whites.
Margaret Sanger aligned herself with the eugenicists whose ideology prevailed in the early 20th century. Eugenicists strongly espoused racial supremacy and “purity,” particularly of the “Aryan” race. Eugenicists hoped to purify the bloodlines and improve the race by encouraging the “fit” to reproduce and the “unfit” to restrict their reproduction. They sought to contain the “inferior” races through segregation, sterilization, birth control and abortion.
In 1929, 10 years before Sanger created the Negro Project, the ABCL laid the groundwork for a clinic in Harlem, a largely black section of New York City. It was the dawn of the Great Depression, and for blacks that meant double the misery. Blacks faced harsher conditions of desperation and privation because of widespread racial prejudice and discrimination. From the ABCL’s perspective, Harlem was the ideal place for this “experimental clinic,” which officially opened on November 21, 1930. Many blacks looked to escape their adverse circumstances and therefore did not recognize the eugenic undercurrent of the clinic.
The June 1932 edition of The Birth Control Review, called “The Negro Number,” featured a series of articles written by blacks on the “virtues” of birth control.
The editorial posed this question: “Shall they go in for quantity or quality in children? Shall they bring children into the world to enrich the undertakers, the physicians and furnish work for social workers and jailers, or shall they produce children who are going to be an asset to the group and American society?” The answer: “Most [blacks], especially women, would choose quality … if they only knew how.”
DuBois, in his article “Black Folk and Birth Control,” noted the “inevitable clash of ideals between those Negroes who were striving to improve their economic position and those whose religious faith made the limitation of children a sin.” He criticized the “mass of ignorant Negroes” who bred “carelessly and disastrously so that the increase among [them] … is from that part of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.”
DuBois called for a “more liberal attitude” among black churches. He said they were open to “intelligent propaganda of any sort, and the American Birth Control League and other agencies ought to get their speakers before church congregations and their arguments in the Negro newspapers [emphasis added].”
Charles S. Johnson, Fisk University’s first black president, wrote “eugenic discrimination” was necessary for blacks. He said the high maternal and infant mortality rates, along with diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria and venereal infection, made it difficult for large families to adequately sustain themselves.
Further, “the status of Negroes as marginal workers, their confinement to the lowest paid branches of industry, the necessity for the labors of mothers, as well as children, to balance meager budgets, are factors [that] emphasize the need for lessening the burden not only for themselves, but of society, which must provide the supplementary support in the form of relief.” Johnson later served on the National Advisory Council to the BCFA, becoming integral to the Negro Project.
Prior to 1939, Sanger’s “outreach to the black community was largely limited to her Harlem clinic and speaking at black churches.” Her vision for “the reproductive practices of black Americans” expanded after the January 1939 merger of the Clinical Research Bureau and the American Birth Control League to form the Birth Control Federation of America. She selected Dr. Clarence J. Gamble, of the soap-manufacturing company Procter and Gamble, to be the BCFA regional director of the South.
Gamble wrote a memorandum in November 1939 entitled “Suggestions for the Negro Project,” in which he recognized that “black leaders might regard birth control as an extermination plot.” He suggested black leaders be placed in positions where it would appear they were in charge. Yet Sanger’s reply reflects Gamble’s ambivalence about having blacks in authoritative positions:
I note that you doubt it worthwhile to employ a full-time Negro physician. It seems to me from my experience … that, while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors, they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table, which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts. They do not do this with white people and if we can train the Negro doctor at the clinic, he can go among them with enthusiasm and … knowledge, which … will have far-reaching results among the colored people.
Another project director lamented:
I wonder if Southern Darkies can ever be entrusted with … a clinic. Our experience causes us to doubt their ability to work except under white supervision.
Sanger knew blacks were a religious people—and how useful ministers would be to her project. She wrote in the same letter:
The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. We do not want 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 [emphasis added].
Source: Concerned Women for America (Click here for full article and references)