American progress during the 1920s was spectacular. This particular time in history witnessed rapid migration, modernization, and immigration. For some Americans, this was a sign of hope. A new country was a symbol of optimism for many immigrants. Black Americans looking to escape the Jim Crow segregation of the South moved to the northern states. Others, however, viewed the demographic shifts as something to be feared. For them, the changes represented a type of powerlessness that they had not known.
Fueling this fear was the nation’s first blockbuster film, The Birth of a Nation (1915). This film presented a positive portrayal of the hate group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), to its audience. The KKK’s old traditions would be given new life as the country experienced the reemergence of the group’s racist activities. With its resurgence, if the KKK’s fraternal society wanted to grow in size and maintain its power, it would need a new plan to address the new landscape of social changes.
With the Klan’s reappearance and the addition of influential doctors, lawyers, and businessmen to their ranks, they sought new tactics to deal with problems of race that didn’t always include lynching and terror. The rise of eugenics—the practice of controlled selective breeding in human populations—held great promise for those with a penchant for an intellectual approach to race problems.Indeed, it was this eugenic approach that brought the Klan into contact with the pioneer of the eugenics movement, Margaret Sanger.
In what follows, I will trace the history of the “Negro Project” in three steps. First, I will consider the birth of The Negro Project, which began with the eugenics movement and Margaret Sanger. Next, I will consider how Margaret Sanger and Martin Luther King Jr. joined Planned Parenthood to the Black Community. And last, I will show how this early connection with King has led to countless black pastors championing the immoral and unbiblical choice of women to terminate the lives of children that God has given to them. In all, I want to show how these historical connections have been a detriment to the black community.
The Negro Project
In the name of “racial betterment,” the American Eugenics Society sought to get rid of “unfit” or “undesirable” children. Eugenicists promoted the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest” with the aim of population control within less desirable communities (the disabled, immigrants, and minorities).
Eugenicists like Margaret Sanger spread their influence across the country, advocating the forced sterilization of the “feebleminded” and “oversexualized.” The practice of forced sterilizations culminated in 1927, when the Supreme Court ruled in Buck v. Bell that the state of Virginia could sterilize Carrie Buck, a patient in a state mental facility, for the “health of the patient and the welfare of society.” This victory empowered states across the country to implement similar programs. Reports showed that federally funded programs were responsible for the forced sterilization of 100,000 to 150,000 people during the eugenics movement.
With the aim of reaching large segments of the black populace in the South, Sanger employed a new set of tactics. For this endeavor, she solicited the help of black pastors to promote her ideas. In 1939, Sanger’s organization, the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA), began the Negro Project. This was a concentrated effort to control minority populations through various birth control means. Critical to this effort was identifying black pastors who would preach the gospel of a childless future to their congregations. What would be the tradeoff for a married couple? Economic advantage and a place in society.
Writing to her benefactor for the project, Sanger makes her most controversial statement: “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.” It’s unclear if Sanger’s statement was inherently racist. What is clear is the desire to minimize any dissent that was seen as “rebellion.”
Although it is hard to prove that early eugenics was based solely on racism, it is clear that the goal was to stop population growth in poor minority communities. This is the legacy of Sanger’s organization, Planned Parenthood, today.
Margaret Sanger and Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Deadly Connection
The success of Sanger’s Negro Project can be debated. It was a three-year project (1939–1942) that witnessed mild success in having black leaders support Sanger’s efforts. At this time in history, the vast majority of blacks were skeptical of the concept of birth control as promoted by white organizations such as Sanger’s.
Undaunted by the past and focused on controlling population growth in certain communities, Planned Parenthood began the first trials of the birth control pill in Puerto Rico. By 1959, Planned Parenthood had expanded the human trials to Haiti and Mexico. Following the trials, Americans would witness approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. Within the first two years of approval, 1.2 million women would use the birth control pill.
Unsatisfied with the success of their discovery, Planned Parenthood was focused on the goal of eugenics, which was to target specific groups of people deemed to be “unfit.” And since black preachers led the civil rights movement in the 1960s, it was clear to the leaders of Planned Parenthood that the role black preachers could play in helping to achieve their goal was paramount.
With the rise of Martin Luther King Jr. as the leader of the civil rights movement, it made sense to award him with Margaret Sanger’s infamous award—The Margaret Sanger Planned Parenthood Award.
The award was accepted by Coretta Scott King. On the award, given to Martin Luther King Jr. on May 5th, 1966, these words were inscribed,
Facing jail, abuse, and physical danger, Dr. King’s unceasing efforts – on behalf of all Americans – to win freedom for the Negro people parallel closely Mrs. Sanger’s fight over the last half-century for the emancipation of women from the burdens of perpetual child-bearing and the emancipation of children from a future of poverty and hopelessness.
It was at this point that the symbiotic relationship between black preachers and Planned Parenthood began in earnest. The impact of King’s endorsement would have a long-term impact on the black community. It is fair to say that Dr. King had no idea of the eugenics movement’s racist past. Also, he may not have known that Planned Parenthood was going to promote abortions a few short years after he got this award. What is clear is that King saw the birth of children as an impediment to black progress rather than as essential to it.
In his speech to Planned Parenthood, delivered by his wife, Coretta Scott King, King states,
The Negroes constitute half the poor of the nation. Like all poor, Negro and white, they have unwanted children. This is a cruel evil that they urgently need to control. There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted. . . . When Negroes have been able to ascend economically, statistics reveal they plan their families with even greater care than whites.
King would go on, knitting the two movements (Civil Rights and Planned Parenthood) together when he stated, “We are natural allies of those who seek to inject any form of planning in our society that enriches life and guarantees the right to exist in freedom and dignity. . . . These constructive movements we are prepared to give our energies and consistent support.”
And so it was, with King’s help, Planned Parenthood leaders inadvertently restarted Sanger’s Negro Project on a scale that they could not have predicted.
The Negro Project Today
While some Pro-Life organizations will promote King as opposing abortion today and cite Planned Parenthood’s anti-abortion roots, there remains sufficient evidence for seeing the damage caused by eugenics. Planned Parenthood’s opposition to child-bearing, especially among the poor, should have given King pause. Scripture is clear on God’s intention for his image-bearers to have children (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 127:3–5; 128:3), and history is clear too. Planned Parenthood came from and stood in line with the eugenics movement.
One of Dr. King’s own civil rights leaders, Fannie Lou Hamer, was the victim of the eugenics movement’s push toward forced sterilizations. In 1961, Fannie Lou Hamer went to a hospital in Mississippi to have a cyst removed. While she was there, she was forcibly sterilized. The outspoken civil rights leader told the story of how many African American women were forced to receive involuntary sterilizations at the hands of the eugenics movement.
In the days of Roe v. Wade, no modern pastor could ignore Planned Parenthood’s role in the 20 million black babies murdered through abortion. After the Dobb’s decision to remove the federal constitutional protection for abortion, this modern Negro Project was revealed in countless churches that lamented the loss of abortion, instead of celebrating the protection of life.
For instance, on the Sunday after the Supreme Court decision, the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Jamal Bryant, took to the platform to make his thoughts known as he said,
This week, America has turned back the hands of time and declared war on women in this nation. I want us to stand . . . to say to this nation that if America were authentically pro-life, then they would immediately abolish the death penalty. If there were really pro-life, then they would put more money into head-start programs. If they were really pro-life, they would seek to cure opiate addiction in this nation. If they were pro-life, there would be stricter measures regarding gun control in this nation.
Instead of appealing to Scripture to make the case before his congregation, Bryant appealed to the words of U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters when he said, “I stand with the now living matriarch of the movement, Maxine Waters, who said, ‘They have declared war on 32 million women in this nation.’”
Before continuing the service (which—irony of ironies—featured baby dedications), Bryant exhorted, “One thing about a woman, when she is focused, she is not going to stop until she gets what she needs.”
While Jamal Bryant might be one of the most vocal of black pastors on this issue, changing from pro-life to pro-choice on the abortion issue didn’t begin with him. In 1977, a (then) pro-life Jesse Jackson addressed abortion by saying,
Those advocates of taking life prior to birth do not call it killing or murder; they call it abortion. They further never talk about aborting a baby because that would imply something human. Rather, they talk about aborting the fetus. Fetus sounds less than human and therefore can be justified.
However, by 1988, political expediency caused Jesse Jackson to change his position on abortion when he sought to make a presidential run on the Democratic ticket, saying, “Women must have freedom of choice over what to do over their bodies.”
More recently, Senator Raphael Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the historic church where Martin Luther King Jr. once pastored, is the most prominent vocal proponent of the black pro-choice movement today. Upon hearing of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Warnock took to Twitter to express his pro-choice position, saying,
As a pro-choice pastor, I’ve always believed that a patient’s room is way too small for a woman, her doctor, and the United States government. I’ll always fight to protect a woman’s right to choose. and that will never change.
None of these men feel the pressure to advocate for life. Instead, they stand in a line that goes back to the Negro Project and its racist agenda. Indeed, with such a historical pedigree it is worth asking a question: What endangers the black community the most?
Exposing and Replacing The Negro Project
Today, it is not the Klan that is most dangerous for black children. In too many cases, it is black mothers themselves, with the support of their pastors, who offer their children to the vice grips of Planned Parenthood. As statistics have shown, a disproportionate number of black babies are threatened and killed, because black mothers have heard a message echoing from 1966 that “unwanted children . . . [are] a cruel evil that they urgently need to control.” Tragically, because babies have been portrayed as economic burdens instead of God-given blessings, their precious lives have been taken. And worse, shepherds who devour the flock give cover for this act of violence (Ezek. 34:9–12).
Looking back at the contours of history, we do not have to charge King with endorsing abortion when he accepted the Margaret Sanger award. But by his acceptance, he tied a knot between black pastors and Planned Parenthood that has served to advance the lethal eugenics of the Negro Project. Indeed, this knot needs to be exposed, untied, and replaced with a biblical vision of true human flourishing.
This way of life does not come by killing babies, but by setting up strong communities of faith, hope, and love that will stand against the slaughter of the innocent and help mothers keep their children. Wonderfully, the formation of such communities are everywhere the gospel is preached. In faithful local churches and in their ministries that care for mothers and their children, we have a project funded by the Holy Spirit that is far greater than anything associated with Margaret Sanger. And for that reason, Christians do not need to consort with such wickedness. Instead, we must expose the deeds of darkness and point people to the light. As Moses spoke to the children of Israel, so should we speak today:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. (Deut. 30:19)