The National Portrait Gallery has an exhibit entitled ‘Struggle for Justice’, stands a bust honoring Sanger for her work in sex education and for the establishment of the American Birth Control League. A surface look at her history shows Sanger worked to advance both racist and eugenic beliefs, and was deeply involved with both the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi party.
The evidence of such involvement is extensive, pervasive, and ought to disqualify her from being of being honored among those who struggled for the oppressed. Sanger’s bust ought to be removed from the exhibit.
Sanger is most often celebrated for her creation of the American Birth Control League, an organization that operated under Nazi-practiced eugenic principles, but was created to sterilize genetically inferior races and populations. Founding board members included Lothrop Stoddard, a Ku Klux Klan member. Sanger herself later accepted an “invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan at Silver Lake,” as she would recall in her autobiography.
Sanger is also credited with the creation of the Negro Project which aimed to introduce birth control into African American communities in an attempt to quell a population that would, as Sanger put it, “still breed carelessly and disastrously.”
Claims that Sanger only intended to help a struggling and impoverished population are simply not consistent with her well-documented and emphatic eugenic beliefs in the superiority of certain white races.
Sanger’s bust in the ‘Struggle for Justice’ exhibit sits in close proximity to MLK and Rosa Parks, which is not only absurd, but perverse. Sanger was no champion of justice, but rather an active oppressor of the poor and disenfranchised. If Sanger can be considered a purveyorof justice, it would only be for certain classes of white females who she believed to be superior and worthy of reproduction.
The mainstream, modern characterization of Margaret Sanger as the savior of the oppressed is perhaps the most well-executed marketing campaign of the last century. The placement of her bust in the exhibit contributes to this mischaracterization.
In 2015, a group of black pastors petitioned the Gallery to remove the bust. Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, conceded Sanger’s involvement in the eugenics movement. The signage included with the bust itself sites her involvement.
Sajet claims that “there is no ‘moral test’ for people to be accepted into the National Portrait Gallery”.
We as a country should most certainly employ a ‘moral test’ on those that we chose to celebrate in our national, citizen funded museums — especially an exhibit showcasing Americans’ efforts towards justice.
While we recognize that “human imperfection and infallibility” should not be blotted out from the pages of our country’s history, the placement of Sanger’s bust in the ‘Struggle for Justice’ exhibit is hardly an appropriate lens through which to view her sordid past.
Her work with eugenics and racism were not footnotes to her work, but rather the motivation for it.
Sajet claims that her work in eugenics and her work in birth control merely make her a figure of “controversy.” But, the two are inseparable, not contradictory.
Sanger advanced birth control and sex education as a means to further forced sterilization: the extermination of blacks, the feeble minded, and other so-called less desirable people. She perpetuated the ideas and values that led to the Holocaust. We must not confuse our sympathies toward modern birth control with Margaret Sanger’s aims.
To refer to Sanger as simply “less than perfect,” is a disturbing and insulting understatement. Part of “setting a path towards a better future,” as Sajet hopes to do, is to also denounce those who perpetuate evil in and against the citizens of our country and against common human dignity.
The bust of Margaret Sanger must be removed from the ‘Struggle for Justice’ exhibit in the National Portrait Gallery.
Kathleen Russo is a junior majoring in American studies.