To of “Who Chooses?: American Reproductive History

To what extent were the birth control campaigns in minority areas in the 1960s a form of genocide?By Laura BoyleWord Count: 2198Table of ContentsSection 1: Identification and Evaluation of Sources………………………………………… 2  Section 2: Investigation…………………………………………………………………………4 Section 3: Reflection…………………………………………………………………………….9 Works Cited…………………………………………………………………………………….10Section 1: Investigation and Evaluation of Sources This investigation will explore the question: to what extent were the birth control campaigns in minority areas in the 1960s a form of genocide? The 1960s will be the focus of the investigation, with some reference to the precedent set in the 1930s, to allow for an analysis of the basis for genocidal paranoia of birth control and an evaluation of the arguments made at the peak of the controversy. The first source that will be assessed is the journal article “Birth Control and the Black Community in the 1960s: Genocide or Power Politics” by Simone M. Caron, published in 1998. Caron is a professor and the head of the history department at Wake Forest University. The origin of this source is valuable because Caron has a phD in history and is also the author of “Who Chooses?: American Reproductive History since 1830.” She teaches courses on gender dynamics, medical controversies, and society in the sixties, so she is an expert in her field and is knowledgeable on the topic of the investigation. The publication date of the article is valuable because the author had the benefit of hindsight and was able to analyze the long-term ramifications of the controversy. The origin limits the source because it has only one author which makes it susceptible to unconscious bias. The purpose of the source is to analyze the verity of the claims that the government used birth control as a tool of genocide in the 1960s. The narrow time-period evaluated is valuable because Caron examines the events of the decade in depth. However, this is also a limitation because it does not address the basis of the fears of black genocide that had been building for centuries. The source also studies the “rift that occurred between male genocide theorists and black women” over the issue and the role of women as pioneers for birth control (Caron). This is valuable because it evaluates the cause and effect of certain events and the various perspectives at play within the Black Power Movement itself. The second source that will be assessed is the book “Die, N*****, Die: A Political Autobiography” by H. Rap Brown, published in 1969. The origin is valuable because it is a primary source, so it is an accurate reflection of the perspectives of the time. However, Brown wrote it before the resolution of the issue, so it did not have the benefit of hindsight. Additionally, he was a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement as he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a member of the Black Panther Party. He had the status and voice to have an influence on the decisions made on the issue. The origin is also a limitation because Brown was an extremist and one of the biggest proponents of the black genocide theory, so he was biased. The purpose of the book is to spread the idea of black genocide and incense people to take action. The purpose limits the source because it is a form of propaganda and is, therefore, subject to exaggerations and mistruths. Brown claims that birth control was weaponized in the United States’ “genocidal war against people of color” (Brown). Some of the information may have been altered or omitted to suit the audience. Additionally, it does not evaluate any opposing viewpoints. The purpose is valuable because it exemplifies the falsified information and propaganda of the time. It also proves the extreme opinions of some of the activists and the one-sided nature of their claims.Section 2: Investigation When the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive pill in 1960, two of the decade’s defining movements, the Civil Rights Movement and Second Wave Feminism, intersected as birth control was tied into claims of black genocide. Though many women hailed the legalization of the pill a victory, some activists, especially the Black Panther Party and Black Muslims, saw it as furthering centuries of forced sterilization and eugenics policies made to target the black population. While some black leaders rose up to fight the coercion and alleged genocide, others saw the potential benefits of accessible contraception and fought to keep it around. To determine whether the birth control campaigns in minority areas were a form of genocide, a definition of genocide must be established. According to the United Nations, genocide can include not only killing or harming a group of people, but also “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” (“Genocide”). Thus, wielding birth control as a weapon to limit population growth would be genocide. However, there also has to be “a proven intent on the part of perpetrators,” so the purpose of this investigation is to determine whether there was a provable genocidal effort on the part of the U.S. Government (“Genocide”).Some historians argue that the fears of black genocide at the hands of the government did have a historical precedent in the policies of forced sterilization and eugenics, the practice of trying to improve a population. In the 1930s, “the US became the first country to permit mass sterilization to ‘purify the race'” (Ross 59). Statutes were put in place promoting the sterilization of the “unfit”. Historians estimate that over 70,000 people, most of them black or Native American, were involuntarily sterilized under those policies (Ross 59). Over time, the eugenicists shifted from goals of race purification to addressing overpopulation and welfare use. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed blacks to receive welfare benefits, which provided eugenicists a new incentive to limit the growing African American population (Kulchin 74). Under North Carolina’s eugenics code, “blacks constituted 23 percent of those sterilized by the state in the 1930s and 1940s. By 1966, blacks made up 64 percent of those sterilized” proving that the disproportionate rate at which the black population was targeted increased once they were allowed on welfare (Kluchin 91). The eugenics policies had an intent on the behalf of the government to limit the black population through the abuse of contraceptive practices.The targeting of African Americans shifted as new forms of birth control were popularized, persisting the idea of genocide into the sixties. Many blacks became suspicious of “the increasing push for contraceptive dispersal in poor urban neighborhoods…and publicly-funded clinics in areas dominated by ‘poor and prolific black families'” (Caron). Although many blacks supported birth control, the pill pushing in minority areas made them skeptical of a greater scheme. The Black Panther Party was one of the main proponents of the genocide theory, with birth control practices being one pillar of their argument. At a Black Panther conference in 1967, they passed “an anti-birth-control resolution that contained the key phrase, birth control equals ‘black genocide'” (Caron). H. Rap Brown, an extremist Black Panther and chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, believed that “birth control, as it’s practiced by governmental programs dealing with the masses of poor, can’t be called anything else but an attempt at genocide” (Brown). Brown and others published propaganda in advertisements and newspaper articles and in a survey done in the late 1960s, “28 percent of the blacks questioned agreed that ‘Encouraging blacks to use birth control is comparable to trying to eliminate this group from society'” (Caron). The widespread paranoia and historical basis confirm the claims of genocide for some historians.Proving the intent of the government is more than public opinion; it involves actions by the government with the purpose of limiting the African American race. During this time, punitive sterilization bills were introduced around the country, and though none explicitly went against the Fourteenth Amendment, they still influenced blacks an inordinate amount. The bills tended to target welfare recipients and since the number of blacks on welfare was disproportionate to their population, “an involuntary sterilization requirement would disproportionately affect Afro-Americans” (Weisbord 147). Focusing on limiting welfare aid allowed lawmakers to direct their efforts to blacks without violating any laws. Some public officials abused public assistance by coercing women into sterilization under the threat of revoking their welfare payments (Weisbord 141). In the 1950s and 60s, the idea of controlling population growth was used “by policy-makers in the US to justify disseminating birth control internationally… and in domestic policies to reduce the population growth rates of poor blacks in the US” (Ross 60). These policies of targeting the black community could be interpreted to be a purposeful intention of genocide in the United States.However, not everyone saw birth control as a threat; many thought that it would improve the lives of blacks by giving them more choice and opportunities. Martin Luther King Jr. was a strong supporter of accessible birth control, claiming that it was a “‘profoundly important ingredient’ in the black quest for ‘security and a decent life'” (Caron). With birth control, women’s rights and reproductive health would improve, high infant mortality rates could be lowered, and people would be able to choose how big a family they could sustain, helping to alleviate impoverished conditions. Without access to contraception, African Americans “could never hope to move up the proverbial social and economic ladder” (Weisbord 127). Legalizing birth control was also an issue of providing comprehensive medical care to poor women. Dr. King and the NAACP promoted the spread of informational materials on family planning, and upheld the belief that birth control was beneficial not only to society, but to blacks in particular. The NAACP went against the extremists and released a statement that “‘family planning is a social value and they reject the notion . . . that this is a form of genocide'” (Weisbord 124). Since many civil rights leaders supported birth control and helped to normalize and popularize it, some historians believe that the attempts to spread family planning into predominantly black areas was a way to help those communities.Amongst the staunchest advocates for family planning were black women. The controversy over birth control divided the black community as men were often the ones to see the threat of genocide while women would often see the benefits. Some men not only opposed birth control, but also believed that women should begin breeding more children to give the black population more strength (Caron). The women rejected this role and favored the choice provided by birth control. For them, the pill was not a form of genocide, it was “the freedom to fight genocide of black women and children… and fight black men who still wanted to use and exploit them” (Caron). Although some women were against the way that family planning was being enforced, they stood by the ideas and potential that it held. According to a 1970 study,  “80 percent of the black women questioned approved of birth control and 75 percent were actually using it” (Caron). Black women were instrumental in changing the societal perception of birth control. The steadfast support of those affected most by birth control bolsters the idea that the push for contraception was beneficial, not genocidal. Since the 1960s, the claims of genocide have died down and the popularity of the birth control pill continues to grow, supporting the historians who rejected the notion of genocide. The positive aspects of family planning and the ability to distinguish between forced sterilization and birth control allowed the pill to continue without allegations of genocide. Although the implementation of birth control did seem to target the black community, there is no provable malicious intent on behalf of the government. However, the long history of injustice and government control and abuse of black women’s reproductive health justified that the reasons for the “black ‘paranoia’ were anchored in historical reality” (Weisbord 185). Although some of the policies did fulfill the definition of genocide, since there was no proven intent by the government, the birth control campaigns in minority areas in the 1960s were not a form of genocide.Section 3: Reflection By taking on the role of the historian for this investigation, I became more aware of the amount of research and analysis required to reach an educated conclusion and the difficulties that appear along the way. When I began the investigation, I had not planned to do as much research on the history of forced sterilization in the United States. However, as I began evaluating whether the fears of genocide were justified, I realized how important that historical precedent was. For a historian to do a thorough job, they have to research not only the event in question, but also the actions that led to it happening. I feel I have strengthened my ability to connect the cause and effect of historical context to my investigation. An instrumental piece of that research is finding and compiling sources that address multiple opinions. Exploring sources can be challenging for historians, as it was for me over the course of this investigation. Researching also highlighted how many different perspectives there can be on the same issue. I looked into the opinions of different genders, races, classes, and religions to get a full understanding of the issue. It was interesting to see how some of the views overlapped and how even when people shared a similar ideology, their tactics could clash and cause conflicts. These differing viewpoints challenge historians to research multiple perspectives to reach an accurate conclusion.