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Fact Check-Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger’s 1939 quote on exterminating Black population taken out of context

Social media users are sharing a quote from Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger without context.

An example can be seen here: (here).

The quote reads, “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.”

Some versions of the post include quotes by Hillary Clinton or former U.S. President Barack Obama complimenting Sanger (here), (here).

Sanger, a feminist and reproductive rights activist, opened the first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in 1916, giving access to low-income and minority women (here).

She started “The Negro Project” in 1939, with the aim of expanding birth control services for Black communities in the south, according to the New York University’s project documenting Sanger’s writings. (here)

The quote is real and appears in a Dec. 10, 1939 letter to a program director advocating employing Black physicians and ministers to gain trust of the communities the program was meant to serve (here).

Sanger’s concern was to avoid a suspicion that the program’s objective was to stop Black people having babies, which having white people in charge could create.

She wrote: “The minister’s work is also important and he should be trained, perhaps by the Federation as to our ideals and the goal that we hope to reach. 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.”

In 2015, the Washington Post, addressing accusations of racism levelled against Sanger brought up her 1939 letter, saying that while the passage quoted above was “inartfully written” it was “frequently taken out of context to suggest Sanger was seeking to exterminate blacks.” (here)

TIME magazine re-examined claims that Sanger advocated exterminating Blacks in 2016, saying that Sanger’s oft-cited sentence, “in context, describes the sort of preposterous allegations she feared — not her actual mission.” (here) Factcheck.org reached similar conclusions in 2011 (here).

The NYU’s Margaret Sanger Papers Project acknowledged that Sanger was a supporter of eugenics, a now-discredited practice of selective breeding with specific characteristics, and described “The Negro Project” as controversial from the onset and “constructed in terms and with perceptions that today smack of racism.”

It dismissed, however, the interpretation that the repeatedly cited passage was “evidence that she led a calculated effort to reduce the Black population against their will.”

In July 2020, a New York clinic moved to remove Sanger’s name from a health center over her views on eugenics, as seen in a statement by Planned Parenthood (here).

VERDICT

Missing context. While one can only speculate whether Margaret Sanger had any ulterior motives with the Negro Project in the 1930’s, the quote circulating on social media has been taken out of context from a letter in which she was describing a perception she wanted to avoid.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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