WASHINGTON — The Smithsonian is refusing to remove a bust of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger from its “Struggle for Justice” exhibit despite opposition from a group of African American pastors who pointed out Sanger’s advocacy for eugenics.
Earlier this month, a coalition called “Ministers Taking a Stand” wrote to officials with the National Portrait Galley at the Smithsonian Institute to request that Sanger’s image be removed from the exhibit—and any other displays at the museum. The “Struggle for Justice” display was to honor those figures who fought “long standing segregationist practices and discrimination in American society,” and features images of leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
“Ms. Sanger may have been a lot of things, but a ‘champion of justice’ she definitely was not,” the letter read. “Perhaps the gallery is unaware that Ms. Sanger supported black eugenics, a racist attitude toward black and other minority babies; an elitist attitude toward those she regarded as ‘the feeble minded;’ speaking at rallies of Klu Klux Klan women; and communications with Hitler sympathizers.”
“Also, the notorious ‘Negro Project’ which sought to limit, if not eliminate, black births, was her brainchild,” it continued. “Despite these well-documented facts of history, her bust sits proudly in your gallery as a hero of justice.”
The pastors, which included Bishop E.W. Jackson of Virginia, Cecil Blye, Jr. of Kentucky, Stanley Jacobs of Delaware and Steven Craft of New York, demanded that any images of Sanger be removed from the Smithsonian.
“We will not remain silent while the National Portrait Gallery venerates someone who sought to eradicate our very existence. … She was no hero,” they wrote. “Notwithstanding the fact that many of us are black, we are a national organization of pastors from various races and backgrounds, and we stand together in opposition to the racist and genocidal legacy of Margaret Sanger.”
On Wednesday, the Smithsonian replied to Ministers Taking a Stand, declining to remove Sanger’s likeness from the museum.
“There is no ‘moral test’ for people to be accepted into the National Portrait Gallery,” Gallery Director Kim Sajet wrote.
“Instead, we try to draw attention to those who have made a significant impact on American history and culture, and that includes both the accomplished and reprehensible,” she said. “We recognize Sanger’s advocacy on behalf of women’s health and education whilst acknowledging her sometimes deplorable beliefs.”
Sajet stated that the description of the bust of Sanger includes text outlining her controversial philosophies.
“As we note on the label accompanying the bust, Ms. Sanger believed that through social planning, living conditions, as well as the human race itself, could be improved through scientific principles,” she wrote. “Her association with the eugenics movement shadowed her achievements in sex education and contraception, making her a figure of controversy, one whose complexities and contradictions mirror her times.”
The Smithsonian director closed her response by stating that removing “less than perfect” people from the gallery would “deprive future generations of valuable lessons concerning personal ambition and achievement on one hand, and human imperfection and fallibility on the other.”
Jackson says that the group will continue to push for the removal of the bust.
“If they must recognize her ‘historical significance,’ place her with busts of Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Goebbels, Pol Pot and Dr. Mengele,” he told reporters. “This would put her in her proper historical context with the infamous and evil figures who committed genocide.”