Herman Cain got in some trouble with Politifact for making an over-the-top statement about Margaret Sanger and the early days of Planned Parenthood, causing the fact checking media site to give him its dreaded “Pants on Fire” denigration. From the Poltifact story:
[Cain said,]”When Margaret Sanger - check my history - started Planned Parenthood, the objective was to put these centers in primarily black communities so they could help kill black babies before they came into the world,” Cain said during a talk in Washington, D.C., at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative group...”It’s planned genocide.”
That was clearly a very broad overstatement, particularly as PP in those days wasn’t about abortion, which was generally illegal at the time. But Politifact was way too protective of the vile Sanger’s racist history:
At its best, the U.S. movement pushed for better prenatal care. At its worst, it enabled forced sterilization laws and let claims that blacks and immigrants were inferior to masquerade as science. Sanger welcomed some of the movement’s more notorious leaders onto the board of a predecessor to Planned Parenthood. She also endorsed paying pensions to women of low intelligence who agreed to be sterilized. But we found no evidence that Sanger advocated - privately or publicly - for anything even resembling the “genocide” of blacks, or that she thought blacks are genetically inferior.
Sorry, I can’t let the sanitation of Sanger by Polifact stand. Here’s the “true” scoop: Sanger was a vicious eugenicist and social Darwinist. She hung out with the worst racists of her day, and the impact of her beliefs—had they been enacted as public policy—would have felt most harshly on the African-American community, particularly given its profoundly oppressed status during Sanger’s time.
My source is Edwin Black, author of the best history of eugenics I have ever read, War Against the Weak. Black is not a social conservative, and in fact, expresses great affinity for Planned Parenthood. He claims that Sanger wasn’t “personally” racist. But then he tells the truth about her beliefs and close associations that completely belies the “not personally” defense. From page 127 of War Against Edwin the Weak:
Sanger was an ardent, self confessed eugenicist, and she would turn her otherwise noble birth control organizations into a tool for eugenics, which advocated mass sterilization of so-called defectives, mass incarceration of the unfit, and draconian immigration restrictions. Like other staunch eugenicists, Sanger vigorously opposed charitable efforts to uplift the downtrodden and deprived, and argued extensively that that it was better that the cold and hungry be left without help, so that the eugenically superior could multiply without competition from “the unfit.” She referred repeatedly to the lower classes and the unfit as “human waste” not worthy of assistance, and proudly quoted the extreme eugenics view that human “weeds” should be exterminated.
You say she was an equal opportunity vile eugenicist and vicious social Darwinist, but at least, not a racist? Get this from page133:
Sanger surrounded herself with some of the eugenics movement’s most outspoken racists and white supremacists. Chief among them was Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy. Stoddard’s book, devoted to the notion of a superior Nordic race, became eugenic gospel. It warned, “‘Finally perish!’ That is the exact alternative that confronts the white race...If white civilization goes down, the white race is irretrievably ruined. It will be swamped by the triumphant colored races, who will eliminate the white man by elimination or absorption...We now know that men are not and never will be equal.”
We are known by the friends we keep, no? If one welcomes a pernicious racist as a valued colleague into one’s movement, the defense that she was not “personally” racist rings as hollow as a Jack O’ Lantern pumpkin.
Black sums up on page 135:
Even though Sanger was not a racist or an anti-Semite herself, she openly welcomed the worst elements of both into the birth control movement. This provided legitimacy and greater currency for a eugenics movement that thrived by subverting progressive reforms to achieve its goals of Nordic racial superiority and ethnic banishment for everyone else.
Well, eugenics was itself considered a progressive reform movement, but I digress.
Bottom line: Cain clearly overstated his case. But his ultimate point—the gist of what he was communicating—was that Sanger was a racist. And indeed, Sanger enabled racists. Sanger gave them respectability. Sanger befriended them. Sanger viewed them as valued colleagues. Her wicked social Darwinism would have had a devastating and disproportionate impact on minority communities. Oh, and as the above embed—a reading of her autobiography—proves, she spoke to the Klu Klux Klan, and looked forward to receiving more invitations to speaking in front of similar groups.
Add it all up, and Sanger was R.A.C.I.S.T.