What was Important to Me Then
What was important to me back then was happy hour and high heels, Dooney & Burke, free entry at the club before ten, office hook-ups and rumors of office hook-ups, my hair, my money, and my time.
I was twenty-nine years old and a paralegal in the premiere intellectual property law firm of Seattle. I was like Ally McBeal, my sister says. A black Ally McBeal. My job paid well and more was always coming, so I justified every indulgence and I loved the freedom to live that way. Then came one September day, when even the party girl I was knew something was off.
A trifold brochure pushed at me across wood veneer, and words like “options” and “timelines” and “decisions” and “how would you like to proceed?” punctuated the sterility of that moment. And even though I think I knew this going in, I was shocked stiff at the confirmation, at a major intersection of my own before and after life story.
But let’s rewind.
Population Control Yesterday and Today
… these two words [birth control] sum up our whole philosophy… It means the release and cultivation of the better elements in our society, and the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extinction, of defective stocks—those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.
— Margaret Sanger, High Lights in the History of Birth Control (1923)
Not many today have heard of Margaret Sanger, who passionately trampled through reproductive justice and body autonomy long before these ideas had names. But we do know Charles Darwin, who authored On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, shortened to On the Origin of Species, published in the UK in 1859.
This book gave rise to philosopher Herbert Spencer’s term “survival of the fittest,” coined in his two-volume Principles of Biology published in London (1864-67). The phrase has been reiterated as “nature’s indispensable method for producing superior men, superior nations, and superior races.”
In the US at about the same time, the American Civil War had ended, and the Emancipation Proclamation had been codified; and with this dawn of hope for liberation among formerly enslaved black people, arose these euro-centric themes of black obsolescence and justified extinction.
…the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.
— Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1867, 1871)
Though more than 150 years old, Spencer’s “fittest” theory is the same white-coded phraseology of “genetic lottery” we hear today. Both Darwin’s natural selection and Spencer’s survival of the fittest, also known as Social Darwinism, have been weaponized “by psychologists and eugenicists who feared the end of civilization and the Nordic race.”
Whereas, for hundreds of years, with impunity, slaveholders had forced mating among enslaved people, ensuring renewable workforces, ever-increasing in size and profitability, they now slapped back at the law that would end their peculiar institution, the law of emancipation. From that time forward, “fittest” theorists have rebutted notions of value ascribed to black life and liberation.
Eugenics: Theory, Practice, and Law
Margaret Sanger would become an evangelist for eugenics, to de-humanize, alienate, and even kill those considered to be superfluous, undesirable. “[The eugenic] movement intended to subtract emancipated Negroes, immigrant Asian laborers, Indians, Hispanics, East Europeans, Jews, dark- haired hill folk, poor people, the infirm,” and others. 
Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, doubled down on Spencer’s “fittest” theories, developing the eugenic school of thought. Eugenics is defined by Merriam Webster as “the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations.” Havelock Ellis, an associate of Galton’s and a physician and eugenicist in London, wrote to him—“I shall do what I can to insinuate a eugenics attitude”—emphasis added.
Ellis met Margaret Sanger in London in 1914, and they were a couple for a while, together promoting ideas of selective breeding, or “positive eugenics,” which would, over time, cut away huge swaths of “unfit” human beings.
Eugenic theory and practice support standardizing and sustaining a kind of racial pedigree by selecting, and sometimes modifying, types of people on the basis of physical traits; then cultivating the development of those individuals which are considered to be the “fittest” of humanity. This effectively marks the “unfit” for sterilization, and their offspring for abortion. In his own writing, Galton called this process the “cultivation of race.”
Sanger opened a birth control center in Brooklyn in 1916, and formed the American Birth Control League in 1921. It became the Birth Control Federation of America, and finally the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942—Planned Parenthood, as we know it today. Its supporters the world over proudly reference “PP”, suggesting a kind of BFF status with the organization.
Lothrop Stoddard, was a Klansman, a colleague of the couple, and a fellow eugenicist. In his book The Rising Tide of Color Against White Supremacy (1920), Stoddard referred to the “dreaded” tide of color that would “swamp whole populations and turn countries now white into colored man’s lands irretrievably lost to the white world.” He later penned The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Under-man (1922) which earned him favor amongst Nazis during his time as a journalist in Germany.
US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. also opined favorably on the premise of eugenics in the often-cited 1927 case, Buck.
It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.
— Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Eugenics: Public Policy and Funding
That same year, the Human Betterment Foundation was formed to promote global voluntary or coercive sterilization. HBF pushed for legalized sterilization of human beings, and achieved it in many states, creating perilous circumstances for people considered to be undesired stock.
The organization has seen a number of name changes, from Human Betterment Foundation—which has been tied to Adolf Hitler—to Birthright, to AVSC which stands for Association for Voluntary Surgical Contraception. Today, the organization exists as EngenderHealth.
According to the Population Research Institute, Henry Rockefeller had been a major financier in “the task of social hygiene.” The Rockefeller Foundation remains so today, along with the Carnegie Institution; and Kellogg, which funded the Race Betterment Foundation. 
Eugenics: Trading in Black Futures
An excerpt from Sanger’s 1939 correspondence to Dr. C.J. Gamble (of the Proctor & Gamble Company) discusses the “Negro Project of the South” with urgency to identify black physicians and ministers to be trained for furtherance of that work. Specifically, Sanger lays out a plan to push black leaders out front as the face of the movement to represent the eugenic mission within black communities. This reflects Sanger’s close following in the steps of the Rockefellers, whose agenda has been tied to its funding of black Baptist organizations since the 1860s.
Incidentally, Spelman and Morehouse Colleges in Atlanta, GA; and Tuskegee University in Alabama were all significantly funded by the Rockefellers. In fact, buildings erected in the late 1880s and early 1900s at both Spelman and Tuskegee are named after Laura Spelman Rockefeller, his wife, as well as himself.
Sanger arranged a National Negro Advisory Council comprised of “some of the most prominent black leaders of the day, including religious leaders like Bishop David Sims and Reverend Adam Clayton Powell.” Through this scheme, Sanger drew support from the black church community, “and even got [the leaders] to preach her message from the pulpit.” 
Eugenics in the “Up South”
Using spatial analysis, a 2016 Tufts University study looked at demographic features of populations near Planned Parenthood locations and other women’s reproductive health centers in Los Angeles County. At its conclusion, the study showed that Planned Parenthood centers in LA have been established “in areas with higher numbers of poor, impoverished, and minority populations in comparison to other women’s reproductive health centers.”
Actor Nick Cannon considers himself neither explicitly pro-life nor pro-choice, but he’s been passionate and vocal in calling attention to the downsizing of black and brown communities by systemic means, naming Planned Parenthood, among them.
When a HuffingtonPost reporter asked black documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen (“Anti-Abortion Crusaders: Inside the African-American Abortion Battle”) about the anti-abortion movement happening in pockets of the black community, Richen, referring to eugenics, responded “—you have people who believe this stuff, so it’s effective. It’s a movement that should be watched and noted.” Richen is quoted by Vox and Huffington Post referring to Sanger as a fascinating woman, though actively racist, like most white people of her time.
American Medicine: Experimentation, Commodification, and Extermination of People of Color
In recent years, the Rockefeller Foundation was named in a $1B lawsuit alleging that “from 1945 to ‘56, the organization designed, developed, approved, encouraged, directed, oversaw, and aided and abetted nonconsensual, nontherapeutic, human subject experiments in Guatemala.” Put plainly, American scientists willfully and secretly exposed Guatemalan military to gonorrhea. (The Rockefeller Foundation was one of several defendant parties and organizations named in the suit, Slate). This is similar to the Tuskegee Experiment, but on a larger scale with 800 documented cases in this instance.
Johns Hopkins University, and other institutions are responsible for the gross exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman who suffered with and ultimately succumbed to cervical cancer in 1951. Johns Hopkins, like many medical research centers around the world, were then and are now beneficiaries of major funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. In the late 60s, John D. Rockefeller III received the Sanger Award for “individuals of distinction in recognition of excellence and leadership in furthering reproductive health and reproductive rights”.
Experimentation, commodification, and extermination of people of color have been the over-arching theme of eugenics. Black and brown bodies have long been sacrificed on the altar of American medicine. It’s for these reasons that people of color, particularly elders, don’t make regular medical visits. (Being underinsured often plays a role as well.)
The Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Kelloggs—they’re Americana—and Planned Parenthood has been styled the quintessential American institution on par with the American Flag or the National Anthem.
The associations between these white men, their organizations, and their money are older, deeper, closer, and more vital—even today—than you might have realized. Friends and family of the Rockefellers sit with like-minded individuals on the boards of media publications, which could explain why these truths aren’t common knowledge.
Eugenic theory and practice are perhaps the original antagonists at the intersection of race, class, socio-economics, and the politics of healthcare. Case in point, Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization (1922) references the words “feeble-minded,” “unfit,” “mentally defective,” “sterilization,” “poor or poverty,” and “eugenics” more than 200 times across just 104 pages.
Eugenicists: Humanitarians, Philanthropes, and Board Members
Heroes of eugenics movement like Darwin, Spencer, Galton, Ellis, Sanger, and many others have invested centuries in this work and followers of the eugenics movement are motivated and dedicated to carry it forward, but the agenda presents as harmless in hot pink and hashtags, so this lands hard.
Planned Parenthood is just one in a long line of organizations generally considered to be American treasures. Publicly projecting humanitarian values. Privately sizing us up on a scale from most brown to most black, from most fit to most feeble, for more than 100 years.
What’s Important to Me Now
Returning to the small room at Planned Parenthood in what was then considered Seattle’s black neighborhood, with results in hand, a thin smile on her lips, a frown in her eyebrows, the consultant sitting across from me says, with a tip of the head, “Ms. Bell, your instinct was correct. You’re five weeks pregnant.” The brochure pushed across the wood veneer at me, too confidently I thought. Dismissively too, so I didn’t acknowledge it. I didn’t even look at it. And there were too many words, too quickly, trying to rush me along, fasten me with a paperclip, check me off the list, file me away as complete, to call in the next.
What I read in that encounter but didn’t know at the time, was a methodical directive masquerading as clinical care, but ironically, it had little to do with me—one black woman and one unborn black baby, but it had everything to do with us, black and brown women collectively, and our families.
So, what’s important to me now? You.
Everyone has a right to decide how they want to be taken care of, and how they want to take care of themselves. Whatever we decide, we can do it fully aware—with as much knowledge as possible about the origins, influences, missions, and visions of every organization and practitioner to whom we grant authority to administer health care. We can and should know what truly drives corporations and institutions into whose hands we place our very precious lives.
I chose to go right at that major intersection. For me, the end of club nights and hook ups was the beginning of true love. Wisdom, too. And my son will be 21 years old in May.
 Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1963), vii, 373.)
 “Kellogg company profits were initially fed into the Race Betterment Foundation, which John Harvey created in 1914 to publicize and promote eugenics; later they flowed into the W. K. Kellogg Foundation” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447485/
CARLA BELL is a Culture Editor at MAYDAY Magazine and a contributing writer at Forbes, with bylines at Ebony and Essence magazines, The Miami Herald, Electric Literature, and The North Star, first established by Frederick Douglass in 1847, and re-established by Shaun King in 2019. Locally, Carla’s work has been published by The Seattle Times, Crosscut, and others.
Carla’s notable interviews include Bryan Stevenson, renowned civil rights attorney and New York Times best-selling author of Just Mercy; Benjamin Crump, civil rights attorney and counsel for families of Botham Jean, Stephon Clark, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor; Jane Elliott, educator and diversity trainer internationally known for the Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise; Robin DiAngelo, diversity trainer and New York Times best-selling author of White Fragility; Bakari Sellers, politician, attorney, CNN commentator, and New York Times best-selling author of My Vanishing Country: A Memoir; and (Mrs.) Bob Bland, Co-Founder of Women’s March.
Carla’s writings have contributed to an encyclopedia project of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and have been adapted and produced for the stage in New Jersey.