Document 17A: George S. Schuyler, "Quantity or Quality," Birth Control Review, 16, no. 6 (June 1932): 165-66.


   This issue of the Birth Control Review published eleven articles on African Americans and birth control, including seven by prominent African Americans: W. E. B. Du Bois (Document 17B); M. O. Bousfield (Document 17E); W. G. Alexander, general secretary of the National Medical Association in 1932 (Document 17I); Elmer Carter, editor of Opportunity, the official publication of the National Urban League (Document 17D); Constance Fisher, district supervisor of the Associated Charities in Cleveland (Document 17H); Charles S. Johnson, then director of social science at and later president of Fisk University (Document 17C); and George Schuyler, editor of the National News, a weekly paper in Harlem (Document 17A). The issue also included articles by four white authors, Norman Himes, S. J. Holmes, Walter Terpenning, and Walter Willcox, who were all associated with population studies and the birth control movement (see Document 17G, Document 17F, Document 17J, and Document 17K). The articles provided a valuable window into the range of perspectives on the question of birth control in the Black community, brought together in the context of the national movement.

   The rhetoric in the articles relied on arguments based on woman's rights, economic security, and racial progress to justify birth control. Throughout the articles, the authors presented the notion that improved health was a certain route to securing better lives for women and the community. George Schuyler and Constance Fisher perhaps made the strongest cases for women's rights (see Document 17A and Document 17H). M. O. Bousfield, whose article repeated his praise of the Harlem clinic but not his criticisms (see Document 16), particularly encouraged women medical practitioners and social workers to take on the responsibility of providing contraceptive services to African American women (see Document 17E). Elmer Carter's article was perhaps the strongest voice of the eugenic view of racial progress (see Document 17D). Charles S. Johnson and W. G. Alexander made the strongest case for interpreting high fertility rates in the Black community as a legacy of slavery (see Document 17C and Document 17I). The arguments put forward in these articles also contained numerous instances of discussions of racial justice tinted with paternalism toward poor Blacks, thus reflecting the enduring tension within U.S. population politics between birth control as a social right and birth control as a social prescription.[85] In particular, the pejorative comments about poor African Americans that appear in the article by Du Bois (Document 17B) have often been incorrectly attributed to Sanger in secondary sources and have been used as evidence for the conclusion that she was racist.[86]

   The issue contained a report on the Harlem Branch clinic by Bousfield and vital statistics in the African American community compared to those of whites. The articles written by white authors attempted to speak directly to concern that birth control may have been dysgenic in the Black community.[87]

   The Birth Control Review was the official publication of the American Birth Control League (ABCL). Published monthly from 1915 to 1938, it carried national and international news and commentary on topics related to birth control. Sanger was the editor until 1928, when she left the ABCL.[88]

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Quantity or Quality


THERE is no great opposition to birth control among the twelve million brown Americans. Certainly none has been expressed in writing. On the contrary one encounters everywhere a profound interest in and desire for information on contraceptive methods among them.

   The reason for this interest is readily apparent. The Negro death rate is twice as high as that of the white people; the death rate from tuberculosis is three times as high. There are 100 per cent more stillbirths among Negroes than among Caucasians and the same is true of the ratio of deaths in child-birth. In Tennessee the death rate among Negro elementary school children is ten times as great as among white children of the same age period. In many cities and states in the North, the Negro birth rate is less than the death rate. This includes cities like Louisville and the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan. In New Orleans the Negro death rate equals the deplorably high rates of Bombay and Calcutta. The Negro expectancy of life is only 45 years as compared with the Caucasian expectancy of 55 years. In other words, Negro health is just about where white health was 40 years ago.

   This tremendous burden rests heaviest upon the shoulders of the Negro women, who in all urban centers exceed the men in number. Due to discrimination which relegates the black man to the position of perpetual menial—the first to be fired and the last to be hired—and practically bars him from advancement or promotion, the Negro woman has always had to bear a large part of the burden of maintaining the home and raising the family. This double load takes a heavy financial and physical toll, and contributes not a little to the tragic number of still births and deaths of mothers during childbirth. The only gainers by this state of affairs are the undertakers and the physicians.

   Jim Crowism having doomed the brown woman to work along with her man and sometimes to become the sole support of the family, it has been necessary, because of the paucity of day nurseries and recreation centers, to allow the Negro children to grow up in the streets without proper parental supervision. The result has been an inordinate amount of juvenile delinquency, illegitimacy and crime, aggravated by lax policing and the quaint American custom in most cities of permitting vice to flourish unrestrained in the various Black Belts alongside private residences, churches and schools. The more children there are, the greater is the burden on the Negro woman and on Negro society, which must bear the odium of a condition forced upon it by a white civilization.

   Again, because of the disparity between the Negro urban female population and the number of urban males, coupled with the lamentable lack of proper recreational facilities, the percentage of illegitimacy among Negroes has grown in the past decade or so from 110 to 136 per 1000. It is hardly unfair to say that the great majority of these children were and are unwanted. Most of them probably died at birth or within the first year.

   Only women can thoroughly appreciate the dreadful toll in sickness and death the Negro woman must pay for her lack of knowledge of contraceptive methods. Every child takes a great deal of vitality from even those mothers who are in the best of health and enjoy the benefit of security and leisure during the pre-natal and post-natal periods. For the mother who must work daily and is generally undernourished, poorly clothed and miserably housed, childbearing in far too many cases proves fatal or leaves in its train a score of ailments. Since most Negro mothers are emphatically in this category, their general physical condition can be easily appreciated. What little money they do earn is eaten up in insurance payments and the unending levy to physicians, abortionists and undertakers.

   Why should the Negroes who are conducting a desperate struggle against the social and economic forces aimed at their destruction continue to enrich the morticians and choke the jails with unwanted children? It were far better to have less children and improve the social and physical well-being of those they have.

   Negroes are perhaps more receptive to this information than white folk. Despite their vaunted superiority, the white brethren have a full quota of illusions and, one might say, hypocricies, especially about anything dealing with sex. Brown Americans are somewhat different because they

[p. 166]

have been forced to face more frankly the hard facts of life. More of them take a realistic rather than a romantic attitude toward marriage and children. Life at best is for them a grim battle; when children come, it is frequently a losing one. No wonder one sometimes hears a colored woman say "it's a sin to bring a black child into the world."

   After all, a woman is biologically a child factory, as a cow is a milk factory and a hen an egg factory. Certain ingredients of a certain quality are necessary to produce a healthy child under proper conditions of rest and security. If these are absent, the child will usually be an inferior product. Unfortunately, the offspring of the lower economic classes fill the morgues, jails and hospitals largely for this very reason.

   There are some Negroes, mostly men (who do not, of course, bear children) who have a feeling that in some way the increase in the Negro population due to unrestricted reproduction will aid the group in its struggle to survive in an unfriendly society. This is fallacious reasoning, based on the assumption that an increase of births necessarily means an increase in the Negro population, which it does not. If twenty-five per cent of the brown children born die at birth or in infancy because of the unhealthful and poverty-stricken condition of the mothers, and twenty-five per cent more die in youth or vegetate in jails and asylums, there is instead of a gain a distinct loss.

   If anyone should doubt the desire on the part of Negro women and men to limit their families, it is only necessary to note the large sale of "preventive devices" sold in every drug store in the various Black Belts and the great number of abortions performed by medical men and quacks. Scientific birth control is what is needed.

   The question for Negroes is this: Shall they go in for quantity or quality in children? Shall they bring children into the world to enrich the undertakers, the physicians and furnish work for social workers and jailers, or shall they produce children who are going to be an asset to the group and to American society. Most Negroes, especially the women, would go in for quality production if they only knew how.


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