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Planned Parenthood forerunner no advocate of black genocide

The statement

Said Planned Parenthood's early objective was to "help kill black babies before they came into the world."

Herman Cain, in a talk at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank

The ruling

Cain, who has launched a Republican presidential exploratory committee, is the former CEO of Godfather Pizza, has eight honorary doctorate degrees, wrote four books and serves on several corporate boards.

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger is credited with making birth control legal and widely available.

Born in 1879, Sanger, who was white, blamed her mother's death on frequent pregnancies. She thought that if women could legally control the number of children they bore, their health and economic conditions would improve.

The supposed evidence that Sanger supported black genocide is a loose collection of her most objectionable statements, her ties to the disgraced eugenics movement, and her work on what was called the Negro Project. That effort, started in 1939, brought birth control services (but not abortion) to black communities in the South.

Eugenics was once a popular theory that the human race can be improved through better breeding and genetics. It drew together backers as diverse as President Theodore Roosevelt and black intellectual W.E.B. DuBois.

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.

Every academic PolitiFact Georgia consulted said Cain's claim is wrong.

"I have never run into any serious academic reference of Sanger or others wanting to 'kill black babies,' " Indiana University professor Ruth Engs, a eugenics movement expert, wrote in an e-mail.

Those who think Sanger wanted black genocide cite the Negro Project. But even their strongest evidence, a passage from a letter she wrote advocating that organizers recruit black ministers, does not come close to proving a genocidal plot.

Sanger wrote, "We don't 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."

But her correspondence shows this sentence advocates for black doctors and ministers to play leadership roles in the Negro Project to avoid misunderstandings. Lynchings and Jim Crow laws gave blacks good reason to be wary of attempts to limit the number of children they bore.

The facts of the Negro Project suggest nothing more genocidal than a public health project. Black leaders DuBois and Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, and the pastor of the influential Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York were members of its advisory council. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt was supportive.

Sanger failed to rise above the ethnic and racial paternalism of her time, but that's a far cry from being genocidal.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

This ruling has been edited for print. For more rulings, go to PolitiFact.com.

Planned Parenthood forerunner no advocate of black genocide 04/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 9, 2011 6:49pm]
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