matter was that these groups of people were also the ones who wanted birth control knowledge to stave off repeated pregnancies, and the physical and economic burden associated with them.
Sanger was aware of this, as she stated in her article, “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda” published in Birth Control Review, Oct. 1921, p. 5., “After all we have come to the conclusion, based on widespread investigation and experience, that this education for parenthood and of parenthood must be based upon the needs and demands of the people themselves,” and “The potential mother is to be shown that maternity need not be slavery but the most effective avenue toward self-development and self-realization. Is it not what us women are striving for?”
Clearly, she wanted to help women, and felt it was an urgent necessity to control birth among the poor. To make her point, she recounted, on many occasions, the devastation and tragedy she bore witness to.
“[The city’s] pains and griefs crowded in upon me, a moving picture rolled before my eyes with photographic clearness; women writhing in travail to bring forth little babies; the babies themselves naked and hungry, wrapped in newspapers to keep them from the cold; six-year-old children with pinched, pale, wrinkled faces, old in concentrated wretchedness, pushed into gray and fetid cellars, crouching on stone floors, their small scrawny hands scuttling through rags, making lamp shades, artificial flowers; white coffins, black coffins, coffins, coffins interminably passing in never-ending succession…
I was resolved to seek out the root of the evil, to do something to change the destiny of mothers whose miseries were as vast as the sky.” [Birth Control in America, p.17]
The truth is, at one point, Sanger realized where racism had started to rear its ugly head. Thus, her regrets for such a controversial involvement. In a 1945 interview published in the Chicago Defender, Margaret Sanger said:
“Discrimination is a world-wide thing. It has to be opposed everywhere. That is why I feel the Negro’s plight here is linked with that of the oppressed around the globe. 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.”
It is important to mention that the word “negro” was a politically/socially accepted term at the time, (and it would be interesting to see if today’s term “African-American” will not be, someday, considered as racist and discriminatory).
If she wasn’t a racist and a baby-killer, then why such an indignant portrayal of Sanger? The answer probably resides in controversial discourse by opponents of reproductive rights. By defaming and discrediting Sanger’s work and its 50-year legacy since her death, they hope to legitimize their own opinion, depicting Sanger and Planned Parenthood as the Devil who wants to kill babies and exterminate non-white populations. Although Sanger’s involvement with eugenics is quite complex, it is misinterpreted and falsified at best to fit other agendas. Her quotes are often lifted and taken out of context to oppose simple women’s rights and negatively dramatize and vilify all that she stood for.
Another example was her attempt to expand access to birth control information to all women brought her to reach out to poor African-American women in the South in the late 1930s, which effort is still held up as proof of her desire to eradicate the world of black people. However, historians have found that her work with African-American women didn’t differ much from
Margaret Sanger during her Brownsville clinic trial at the King's County Court of Special Sessions in New York City, New York, USA, on January 30, 1917. Photo: George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress.
72 | Ceres Magazine | Fall 2016
Women against discremination. Photo: Bob Aylott/Hulton Archive/Getty Images