Document 24: "Debate on Birth Control Attracts Much Interest," New York Amsterdam News, 23 November 1932, pp. 1-2, Reel 33, Papers of Margaret Sanger, 1900-1966, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
This article, which provides an example of local news coverage of the Harlem Branch clinic's publicity efforts, recounted a debate about birth control at the Grace Congregational Church, noting that the attendees declared the pro-birth control side the clear winner of the debate. Advisory Council member Bessye Bearden organized the debate under the auspices of the Business and Professional Women's Club of Harlem. Bearden, a journalist who worked as the New York correspondent for the Chicago Defender, was a longtime activist in the community. In 1922, she became the first African American women elected to the local school board in Harlem. She was also a member of the Urban League and the National Council of Negro Women. In 1930, as a leader of the newly formed Housewives' League, she was at the forefront of efforts to persuade local merchants to hire African American clerks.
DEBATE ON BIRTH CONTROL ATTRACTS MUCH INTEREST
Of interest among Harlemites last week was the debate held Friday night at Grace Congregational church, 310 W. 139th St., under the auspices of the Business and Professional Women's club on the subject: "Resolved, That birth control would improve the economic and social status of the Negro." The affirmative side won.
A telegram from Mrs. Margaret Sanger, who is very active nationally in the publicizing of birth control, telegraphed congratulations to the club for their interest and spread of discussion of the matter. Representatives of her organization were in attendance.
On the winning side in the debate were Dr. Addie Williams, dentist Mrs. Nell Occomy Becker, school teacher and journalist, and Mrs. Ollie Porter, teacher. Taking the negative, which seemed to be more difficult, public opinion what it is were Dr. Alma Haskins Allen, podiatrist; Mrs. Mary Cheney, secretary and Mrs. Bessye Bearden, journalist. Dr. Gertrude Curtis, president of the club, presided.
A supplementary musical program included a piano solo by Miss Alva Kimbrough, a solo by James Lightfoot, a solo by Miss Hubbard and selections by the Cecil Mack choir.
Judges of the debate were Civil Service Commissioner F. Q. Morton, Judge Charles Toney, Dr. L. T. Wright, Lester Wilson, James A. Thomas, Mrs. Julia Coleman Robinson, Rev. A. C. Garner, Mrs. Thelma Berlack Boozer, Cecil McPherson and Mrs. Elsie McDougald Ayer.
The Business and Professional Women's club has been organized for four years, and includes in the Harlem community physicians, dentists, podiatrists, schoolteachers, journalists, business women, musicians. So great have been the demands upon the club for applications for membership that the membership has been closed and cannot be augmented until some of the present members drop out or die.
DEBATERS ARGUE CONTROL OF BIRTH
Affirmative Side Wins the Judges' Decision in Contest
Birth control would improve the economic and social status of the Negro, according to the decision rendered by ten judges in favor of the affirmative arguers in a debate at the Grace Congregational Church, 308 West 139th street, Friday night. The Business and Professional Women's Club, of which Dr. Gertrude Curtis is president, sponsored the debate.
Dr. Addie Williams, Mesdames Nell Occomy Becker and Ollie Porter represented the affirmative; Mesdames Mary Cheney and Bessye J. Bearden and Dr. Alma Mary Haskins, the negative.
The affirmative side hinged its argument on the following issues: It is necessary to regulate births in proportion to the family's income; spacing births will help mother to recover physically and father financially; physically strong and mentally sound babies will be produced; the tendency toward communicable diseases lessened.
The negative wing contended that the Negro is a minority group and his numbers should be increased rather than decreased or held at the present figure; also that wealth control with a more equable distribution of it—and not birth control—is needed to improve the economic and social status of the Negro.
A supplementary musicale was rendered by Miss Kimbrough, piano solo; and by James E. Lightfoot and Miss Alma L. Hubbard of the Cecil Mack Choir.
Mrs. Margaret Sanger, founder of the Birth Control Clinic, expressed through a telegram her regrets at not being able to be present at the debate.
Dr. Anna Cooper Johnson and Mrs. Gertrude Martin were timekeepers. Dr. Curtis presided. The judges were Mrs. Elise Ayer, chairman; Mesdames Julia Coleman-Robinson and Thelma Berlack-Boozer; Judge Charles E. Toney, the Rev. A. C. Garner, Ferdinand Q. Morton, Lester Walton, Attorney James C. Thomas, Dr. Louis T. Wright and Cecil McPherson.
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