Martin Luther King and Planned Parenthood – OnePeterFive

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

By the time Martin Luther King Jr. had taken his seat in 1960 on Planned Parenthood’s committee on the study of contraception, his views on how artificial birth control could be used to reduce Black family size were well-known throughout the United States. King had been recommended to join the committee by the accomplished and influential Morehouse University sociology professor Walter R. Chivers, who had twice written to his former student (October & November), asking him to become a member. For his part, Chivers had volunteered with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for sixteen years and vouched for the organization’s “integrity, honesty, and complete lack of racial prejudice.”

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On November 5, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote back to Professor Chivers, saying:

After giving the matter serious consideration, I am happy to say that it will be possible for me to serve on the sponsoring committee of the new study being made by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. I must say that the decision was based on your high recommendation of this agency. Of course, I have always been deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation so you may feel free to write Miss Snyder concerning my acceptance (emphasis added).

Of course, King had been “deeply interested in and sympathetic with the total work of the Planned Parenthood Federation,” because, as I will explain below, the use of eugenics to reduce the Black population in America had long been the position of much of the Black elite/Black bourgeoisie class since the early 1900s.

Martin Luther King Jr’s close relationship with the Planned Parenthood Federation and his admiration of the work of the famed eugenicist Margaret Sanger, was put on full display when the organization awarded him, along with Dr. Carl G. Hartman, General William H. Draper, Jr., and President Lyndon Baines Johnson, with their inaugural Margaret Sanger award; given “to individuals of distinction in recognition of excellence and leadership in furthering reproductive health and reproductive rights.” For “his courageous resistance to bigotry and his lifelong dedication to the advancement of social justice and human dignity,” his wife Corretta Scott King accepted the award on his behalf on May 5, 1966, and in the speech written by award reception, Martin Luther King gives Sanger’s eugenics and ‘Negro Project’ the credit for the success of the ‘non-violent’ civil rights movement:

There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist – a nonviolent resister. She was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was revealed to the millions. At the turn of the century she went into the slums and set up a birth control clinic, and for this deed she went to jail because she was violating an unjust law. Yet the years have justified her actions. She launched a movement which is obeying a higher law to preserve human life under humane conditions. Margaret Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them there would have been no beginning. Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern.

In 1966, this was a well-developed position by Martin Luther King Jr., which, again, was grounded in where his peers in Sigma Pi Phi and other Black bourgeoisie educators and physicians would have also held at that time and still today. Yet, in this ‘Advice for Living’ column published by Ebony Magazine in 1957, King demonstrates his thoughts in continuity with the Black bourgeoisie on the necessity of the use of artificial contraception to reduce the Black American population; calling it, “rationally and morally justifiable”:

Question: We have seven children and another one is on the way. Our four-room apartment is bursting at the seams and living space in Harlem is at a premium. I have suggested to my husband that we practice birth control, but he says that when God thinks we have enough children, He will put a stop to it. I’ve tried to reason with him, but he says that birth control is sinful. Is he right?

Martin Luther King Jr’s AnswerI do not think it is correct to argue that birth control is sinful. It is a serious mistake to suppose that it is a religious act to allow nature to have its way in the sex life. The truth is that the natural order is given us, not as an absolute finality, but as something to be guided and controlled. In the case of birth control the real question at issue is that between rational control and resort to chance. Another thing that must be said is that changes in social and economic conditions make smaller families desirable, if not necessary. As you suggest, the limited quarters available in our large cities and the high cost of living preclude such large families as were common a century or so ago. A final consideration is that women must be considered as more than “breeding machines.” It is true that the primary obligation of the woman is that of motherhood, but an intelligent mother wants it to be a responsible motherhood—a motherhood to which she has given her consent, not a motherhood due to impulse and to chance. And this means birth control in some form. All of these factors, seem to me, to make birth control rationally and morally justifiable (emphasis added).


Martin Luther King and Planned Parenthood – OnePeterFive

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