THE BLOG
09/30/2015 09:57 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2016

Professor Still Doesn't Think Historical Context Matters When Discussing Margaret Sanger

A few weeks back, I wrote about how conservative author and Grove City College professor Paul Kengor ignored historical context about Margaret Sanger's talk in 1926 to a Ku Klux Klan women's group, as well as cherry-picking the account of the speech in Sanger's autobiography.

Now Kengor has responded. He still won't acknowledge historical context (or even that I have a name, identifying me only as "one Huffington Post writer"), but he eventually concedes that Sanger wasn't a rabid racist.

In his response, Kengor still blithely dismisses the fact that the KKK had broadened its appeal in the 1920s from mere racism to a patriotic, anti-elitist (if still clandestine) fraternal organization whose views would be largely analogous to that of a conservative organization today -- and which would have been mainstream enough then to attract a speaker like Sanger. Instead, Kengor huffs, "Well, even if so, it was a rather hideous group nonetheless."

Speaking of huffiness, Kengor's reaction to my cherry-picking accusation was to reprint the entire passage on the speech from the Sanger bio -- "to avoid the accusation of cherry-picking this material," he says, as well as "for readers to dissect themselves." Then, again ignoring historical context, Kengor declares Sanger's speech to be "indefensible" and that "she knew that this was an extreme group."

But Kengor is still judging Sanger by today's standards, not that of Sanger's era. By contrast, a quick Google search revealed nothing from Kengor -- condemnation or otherwise -- on prominent conservative politicians such as Bob Barr and Trent Lott associating with the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization descended from the racist White Citizens Councils of the integration era and who, like the KKK of the 1920s, toned down their racism for broader appeal. But racism as a whole was still tolerated, unfortunately, in the U.S. in the 1920s -- which can't be said of the past few decades in which the C of CC has operated.

Kengor goes on to defend a sinister interpretation of Sanger's "Negro Project" as peddled right-wing blacks such as Alveda King, claiming that we can't possibly know the meaning of a statement in a Sanger letter about the project that "We do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population," but that it's "it's easy to understand their sensitivity" of those black right-wingers who portray it as an attempt at black genocide.

In fact, it's pretty easy to discern the intent. The letter makes it clear that she wants to recruit black doctors and ministers to the Negro Project not for sinister purposes but to help dispel "ignorance, superstitions and doubts" about birth control. The only way it can be misinterpreted is if it's ripped out of context, as Kengor does (along with many anti-abortion activists).

At the end of his column, however, Kengor starts backpedaling and concedes Sanger really wasn't the rabid racist he has been suggesting the KKK speech made her:

Was Margaret Sanger plotting to eliminate all blacks? Of course, not. Was she interested in controlling only black births? No, she was not. But she was plotting to control the reproduction of blacks and of the human race generally--the entire race. She wrote of "race improvement," of "creating a race of thoroughbreds." She was a racial eugenicist. Was she a racist-eugenicist? Be careful.

But Kengor concludes by changing the subject, complaining that "If the person we're describing here was a prominent conservative rather than a progressive icon, this would be grounds for liberals to completely discredit and outright destroy that conservative. No question." But it doesn't matter what "liberals" say about Sanger; it matters what history says. But Sanger is not the only subject about which Kengor pleads ignorance regarding historical context.

It's worth noting that the place where Kengor first published his response to me was at the American Spectator, an operation with its own interesting racial history. A few years back, a Spectator writer insisted a black man beaten to death by a white sheriff and his cronies couldn't have been the victim of a lynching because a rope wasn't used and the court case that sprung from it didn't use the word "lynching."

The writer of that item, Jeffrey Lord, not only remains employed by the Spectator, he was recently hired as a commentator on CNN. And, yes, liberals have criticized his hiring on that basis. Kengor, to my knowledge, has not. Nor, apparently, has he spoken out on whether Lott and Barr should be "completely discredited and outright destroyed" for their association with the Council of Conservative Citizens.

If Kengor has failed to speak out on the racial dysfunction currently going on in his own ideological flank, what gives him the moral authority to attack Sanger?