Discussion Concerning False Opinions Regarding Margaret Sanger

Margaret gets cozy with her allies, the KKK.
Here’s the original:

Point taken — I should be more critical of photos. But do you have anything to say about the address – which did happen? Or anything about her views?
I’ve meant to explore her views in more depth, but, not having done so, I can’t comment on those views generally. However, I can let her speak for herself of this encounter:


All the world over, in Penang and Skagway, in El Paso and Helsingfors, I have found women’s psychology in the matter of child-bearing essentially the same, no matter what the class, religion, or economic status. Always to me any aroused group was a good group, and therefore I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan at Silver Lake, New Jersey, one of the weirdest experiences I had in lecturing.


Never before had I looked into a sea of faces like these. I was sure that if I uttered one word, such as abortion, outside the usual vocabulary of these women they would go off into hysteria. And so my address that night had to be in the most elementary terms, as though I were trying to make children understand.

In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered. The conversation went on and on, and when we were finally through it was too late to return to New York. Under a curfew law everything in Silver Lake shut at nine o’clock. I could not even send a telegram to let my family know whether I had been thrown in the river or was being held incommunicado. It was nearly one before I reached Trenton, and I spent the night in a hotel.

Margaret Sanger: An Autobiography

Ah — autobiography. Authoritative!
Here’s what the same quote looks like when filtered through the mind of a “pro-life” advocate: “I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan … I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses … I was escorted to the platform, was introduced, and began to speak … In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered.”

GROSSU: Margaret Sanger, racist eugenicist extraordinaire: The founder of Planned Parenthood would have considered many Americans unworthy of life

What I’m getting at is – what were her views and how did they inform her activism? You and many others say you haven’t looked into it. I think it may be in part because you don’t want to.

And again, I apologize for the “photo”. But also again — the address did happen, and Sanger was a eugenicist.

Well, I know we’ve discussed this before. You posted a quote, I responded with the full quote in context, and you then deleted the entire exchange.

It’s difficult for me to muster the interest about her beliefs because I’m not sure that they’re important. If the logic is, “Planned Parenthood was founded by a racist who wanted to kill all black babies; therefore, Planned Parenthood currently wants to kill all black babies” then the logic is clearly flawed.

It’s as silly as this argument: “Christians took part in the Inquisition; therefore, all Christians currently think that suspected enemies of Christianity should be tortured and killed.”

Sanger’s beliefs and their place in history are important for a number of reasons. The petty reason is that it’s endlessly irritating for me to have to defend public figures who share my views against spurious charges of racism, when the founder of Planned Parenthood can address the KKK and write at length on eugenic aims and Hillary Clinton will gladly accept an award in her name.

The better reason is because it’s true and history matters. Maybe Sanger is a figure that should be up there in the Pantheon. Maybe she’s an execrable racist. But the fact is – her work has never really been held up to the light of day.

And nobody is duped into speaking to the Klan. Even in the 20s.

Well, I foresee the endeavor of teasing out her views on race and eugenics as being at least a month-long project to be done thoroughly. I agree that it should be of interest all by itself. It’s still pretty low on my priority list. Of course, so is proving that Republicans are racist. My only comment on that is to note that any racist I grew up around who bothered to vote, voted Republican. This has led me to believe that, where conspicuous racism still exists, it’s primary home in the US political spectrum is within the Republican party.

However, because I believe in statistics over anecdotes, I looked for and found this: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/are-white-republicans-more-racist-than-white-democrats/.

I am surprised to see how close the responses of white Republicans and white Democrats actually are on these questions. Although there’s a lot of bad news here, I’m glad to see that the trends are all generally favorable.

Clifton Smith Also, she doesn’t claim to have been duped; on the contrary, she is clearly fully aware of what she was doing. More important would be to get ahold of the speech itself and see what she actually said to these people.

Alas, that’s probably lost to history. Only businesses would have had recording devices then, and if she prepared notes we don’t have them. But again – everybody knew what the KKK was about, even then. She may have approached the situation from a “Daily Show” why-the-fuck-not perspective, but there’s little in her background to think she did.

Clifton — either she was duped or she knew what she was doing. Which do you prefer?

I take her at her word that she knew what she was doing. As you’ve probably already gathered if you’ve googled “sanger kkk,” this topic is absolute catnip for conservatives, which makes it difficult to find unbiased information.

If you can furnish evidence that the text of this speech would have been different from other speeches, I would examine such evidence with due seriousness.

Here is this for your consideration:

I’ve traveled in India and China. Knowing our own problem, it gave me greater sympathy with the others, with what I saw in the Orient. I can recall many horrible things I saw in India. I once saw a white man come out of a train; there were five or six Indians in his way; he just kicked them away–literally, with his foot. There were a hundred people around, who were powerless to strike him. The white man’s power and the Indian’s defenselessness were so unjust.

In China, the Chinese could not go on ‘our’ property. A Chinese doctor was not allowed to see me, couldn’t come into the American area. 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.

AMERICAN VIEWPOINT: On U.S. Birth and Bias Control


Clifton — everybody knew about the KKK. They knew what they stood for. It wasn’t a big secret. President Coolidge decried the lynching the KKK perpetrated in his 1923 SOTU. It wasn’t an accident that she spoke to them.

The intersection of racism, progressivism, and eugenics is something that will remain unexplored.

All available evidence suggests that Sanger was not a racist. She certainly held eugenicist beliefs which many Americans apparently share given high abortion rates of fetuses with Down syndrome.

Perhaps you could tell me what it would take to convince you that Sanger was not a racist eugenicist and that is the evidence I will look for.

Not directly related to Sanger, related to the racialist motives of The Progressive Movement: When Racism Was a Science.
Sanger pretty much seemed to hate anybody who was less than well off.
Clifton — there is plenty of evidence that Sanger was a racist, because racism, progressivism, and eugenics were indistinguishable at that time. Look into her contributions to Birth Control Review. Please contextualize (rationalize) her “human weeds” statement.

And again – Planned Parenthood may be a fantastic organization and great at getting rid of those with Down Syndrome, etc., etc. But Sanger’s activism hasn’t been held up to modern public scrutiny.

Sanger doesn’t appear to be mentioned in that New York Times article at all, let alone as someone who “pretty much seems to hate anybody who is less than well off.”

Also, I have never questioned the relationship between eugenics and Progressivism. But, prenatal testing for birth defects I think is a good thing.

Consider that, according to an Oregon court, a child with Down syndrome costs a family an extra $2.9 million over their lifetime.*

Now, we can consider that $2.9 million could go a long way to providing food and shelter to people without such birth defects. What, then, is more moral: to care for 10 children without Down syndrome or to care for one child with Down syndrome? If you choose the latter, then I would simply say that I disagree with your moral thinking and I hope that people like you lose the ethics war.

Here is the full “human weeds” quote:

If plants, and live stock as well, require space and air, sunlight and love, children need them even more. The only real wealth of our country lies in the men and women of the next generation. A farmer would rather produce a thousand thoroughbreds than a million runts.

How are we to breed a race of human thoroughbreds unless we follow the same plan? We must make this country into a garden of children instead of a disorderly back lot overrun with human weeds.

In a home where there are too many children in proportion to the living space, the air and sunlight, the children are usually overcrowded and underfed. They are a constant burden on their mother’s overtaxed strength and the father’s earning capacity. Such homes cannot be gardens in any sense of the word.


There appears to be nothing racist here that I can see.

You have failed to describe what it would take to convince you that she was not a racist eugenicist. It’s one thing to claim that she was a eugenicist. It’s another thing to claim that she was a racist. It’s another thing still to claim that she sought to use eugenics toward racist ends.

And if you can look at what you’ve posted and still think her a worthy, person… I dunno.
Well, I don’t know what you mean by “worthy.” I don’t think I’ve ever openly sung her praises.

I thought the question was of whether or not she’s a racist eugenicist. You appear to be changing the subject.

As for serious scrutiny of her or her activism, I might direct you here: Margaret Sanger and the Nazis: How Many Degrees of Separation?.

“[We should] apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.” Woman and the New Race, 1920

Looked this up in the library when I had nothing better to do at school (hooray ASU!). It’s real.

Article 1. The purpose of the American Baby Code shall be to provide for a better distribution of babies… and to protect society against the propagation and increase of the unfit. Article 4. No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child, and no man shall have the right to become a father, without a permit…
Article 6. No permit for parenthood shall be valid for more than one birth.

–Margaret Sanger, Birth Control Review, April 1932, pp. 107-108

It’s crazy to think that a person who wrote those things would address the KKK or have racist views, I know!

Do you want me to admonish her for these ideas or do you want to explain to me how any of this makes her a racist?
Maybe she was a racist, maybe she wasn’t. People that say she was will hold up her “Negro Project” letter, but I don’t read it that way. At the end of the day – does it matter? Her views on life and humanity were (and are) sordid.

And again: SHE SPOKE TO THE KKK. It wasn’t happenstance.

Well, you’re speaking to me, Christopher. And, I hold many similar views. So, what does that say about you?
I don’t know what this says about me, but I really don’t want to have to come to the defense of some shmope accused of racism because s/he said something that ran afoul of progressives.

Unless the accusation is warranted.

Thing was pretty specific that the linked article related to The Progressive Movement & not Sanger specifically. Never got deep enough into her works to know her personal views on race. The Progressive Movement was emphatically racist. Sanger was into the Progressive Movement. – The middle remains undistributed, no conclusion can be drawn but inferences can be forgiven.

Fun Fact: Margaret Sanger was appalled by abortion.

She gave a lot of speeches to a lot of people. Presumably, she didn’t agree with all of them. We know that she also gave speeches to groups of black people. If your logic is, “If she gives speeches to them, she endorses everything about them,” then it seems to me that this would apply to black people as well. Of course, I would first point out that it’s a logical fallacy to say that agreeing to speak to someone is the same as endorsing their views. And I can’t believe that I even had to point that out.

As for calling the Progressive movement “emphatically racist,” that’s quite a claim. An emphatic racist would, I imagine, have to go out of their way to proclaim some races as inherently better than others. Of course, we know that, during this period, the term “race” was more nebulous as Irish, Polish, Italian, etc. were regarded as separate races. I will eagerly look at evidence which shows percentages of Progressives from this period who held beliefs that would agree with modern definitions of racism. We could then compare that with general sentiments around the country and see if Progressives of the period were truly remarkable in their beliefs.

As for her thoughts on abortion, they would likely be best summed up by the maxim, “abortions should be safe, accessible, and rare.”

Reminder: The only thing approaching evidence concerning her alleged racism in this entire conversation was a quote in which she expresses a racist sentiment toward white people and disparages mistreatment of Indian and Chinese people by white people.

As far as I can tell, she was motivated primarily by concern for overpopulation and for children being born into families that were so large that they couldn’t be properly cared for. Real monster, right?

“We know that she also gave speeches to groups of black people.” Not doubting you, but I’d like to see that and what she said (if available).

Yes, somebody that wants the government to oversee and dispense licences to bear children is a monster.

I’m not sure that the full text is available, but this document may be of interest to you: MRS. SANGER TOLD THE WOMEN A THING OR TWO: Unique Climax to First Birth Control Meeting in The South, at Elizabeth City Last Sunday*

As for your second point, something that stands out to me is an ellipsis in your quotation of Article 1. You see, when I read this full document, it’s not quite as inflammatory as what you’ve quoted. However, when I search for the quote as you have it (with the tell-tale ellipsis), I get fabulous loads of anti-Planned Parenthood pages. Consider that the more inflammatory articles are preceded by this: “If education, technical assistance, and public opinion fail to limit the number of babies within certain groups of the population to the country’s capacity for taking care of them, then it may be advisable to adopt more drastic procedure.”

And then this: “Suppose, for purposes of discussion of something that may not prove to be practicable, we add the following clauses to the proposed Baby Code:”

Doesn’t sound quite as Stalinist in context, right? Sounds more like a last resort, right?

Furthermore, if the circumstances called for such drastic action, then this wouldn’t be monstrous to my thinking. Context is crucial. There are instances when such measures might be the only way to save the species. A lot of scientists think we’re already in a mass extinction, which the data certainly back up. So, I’m not on board with “monstrous.”

I guess it’s cool killing Down’s Syndrome children because the money it costs could take care of more children
This is a great example of language use that makes a case unnecessarily inflammatory. No one called it “cool” to kill any children.

It’s also easy to flip such a statement and say that anyone who disagrees with such a philosophy thinks it’s “cool” to let 10 children without developmental problems possibly die or at least exist at a reduced level of flourishing. If you view the life of your own developmentally disabled child as more important than the lives of other children, then, at the very least, you cannot call yourself “pro-life.” You are, more accurately, “pro-life of my own child at any cost.”

$3 million is a lot of money. Consider that it’s fairly inexpensive to deworm people.* With that much money, we could deworm perhaps a million kids. This would do enormous good in the world.

A lot of people regard negative outcomes that result from action as worse than negative outcomes that result from inaction. I’m not one of them.

I don’t say any of this lightly. I know that, for most people, nothing is more precious than children in general and, more specifically, their own children (and/or fetuses).

You might argue that such a philosophy would extend to already-born people. I don’t think so because the thought of killing an innocent person who is generally happy and not in intense pain would likely horrify most people. And so would living in a world where doing so is routine.

“Many others”?
I believe Christian posted this image to argue that my quotation from Sanger is not admissible because Sanger may not be representing her own views accurately. Of course, when he quotes her out of context, that apparently does accurately reflect her views.
If you get into an argument with someone who includes short quotes with brackets and ellipses, it’s probably a good idea to look into the quote further. I made the mistake of not doing so immediately.
Again, pay close attention to that ellipsis. If you copy and paste that quote into a Google search with quotes around it (with the ellipsis!), you will find mainly conservative websites railing about the horribleness of “Liberal Goddess Margaret Sanger.”
If you’re wondering what this means, you’re not alone.

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