Historical Black Voices: Racism Kills

Posted on February 21, 2017 By

February is Black History Month, celebrated in the U.S. and Canada (and in Great Britain in October); it’s commonly also called African American History Month in the U.S.  In the US, the virulence of racism leads to a disproportionate impact on African Americans of the forms of  lethal violence: more likely to be targeted for executions, higher casualties in wars such as the one in Vietnam, and being targets of the drug war – which a Nixon adviser admitted was intended to go after Blacks and war protesters.

Here, we offer some quotations from African-Americans about being harmed unjustly by abortion, or targeted by racist practices seeking to prevent them from reproducing, or to encourage them to “choose” assisted suicide.

Fannie Lou Hamer

Source: a 1971 speech obtained from the Lillian P. Benbow Room of Special Collections at Tougaloo College, Mississippi.

“It’s not too late. There is still time for America to change. . . .

The war in Vietnam must be ended so our men and boys can come home—so mothers can stop crying, wives can feel secure, and children can learn strength . . .

The methods used to take human life, such as abortion, the pill, the ring, etc., amount to genocide. I believe that legal abortion is legal murder.”



Source: Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. by Harriet A. Washington. New York: Doubleday, 2007, pp. 189-190

“One day in 1961, Hamer entered the hospital to have ‘a knot on my stomach’—probably a benign uterine fibroid tumor—removed. She then returned to her family’s shack on the plantation to recuperate. But in the big house, ominous tidings circulated. The owner’s wife, Vera Alicia Marlow, was cousin of the surgeon who had treated Hamer. Marlow gossiped to the cook that Hamer had lost more than a tumor while unconscious—the surgeon removed her uterus, rendering Hamer sterile. The cook repeated the news to others, including a woman who happened to be Hamer’s cousin, and thus Hamer was one of the last people on the plantation to learn that she would never have a family of her own.

‘I went to the doctor who did that to me and I asked him, ‘Why? Why had he done that to me?’ He didn’t have to say nothing—and he didn’t. If he was going to give me that sort of operation then he should have told me. I would have loved to have children.’ But a lawsuit was out of the question, Hamer recalled. ‘At that time? Me? Getting a white lawyer against a white doctor? I would have been taking my hands and screwing tacks into my casket.’ “

Dick Gregory

Source: Ebony magazine, October, 1971

“Government family programs designed for poor Blacks which emphasize birth control and abortion with the intent of limiting the Black population is genocide. The deliberate killing of Black babies by abortion is genocide – perhaps the most overt of all.”

Jesse Jackson

Source: 1977 “March on Washington”

Note: Unfortunately, he changed positions in time for his 1984 run for the Democratic Party nomination. Yet his reasoning remains.

“There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life . . . that was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned.        What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually? It is that question, the question of our attitude, our value system, and our mind-set with regard to the nature and worth of life itself that is the central question confronting mankind.”


Erma Clardy Craven, social worker

Source: Abortion and Social Justice, Sheed & Ward, 1972

     “It takes little imagination to see that the unborn Black baby is the real object of many abortionists. Except for the privilege of aborting herself, the Black woman and her family must fight for every other social and economic privilege. This move toward the free application of a non-right (abortion) for those whose real need is equal human rights and opportunities is benumbing the social conscience of America into unquestioningly accepting the ‘smoke screen’ of abortion. The quality of life for the poor, the Black and the oppressed will not be served by destroying their children.”

Mattie Byrd

Source: Letter to Ira Reiner, Los Angeles District Attorney, around 1989 (therefore referring to a legal abortion)

“I am the mother of Belinda A. Byrd . . . I am also the grandmother of her three young children who are left behind and motherless. I cry every day when I think how horrible her death was. She was slashed by them and then she bled to death, taken from this world on January 27, 1987. She has been stone dead for two years now, and nobody cares. I know that other young black women are now dead after abortion at that address . . . Where is [the abortionist] now? Has he been stopped? Has anything happened to him because of what he did to my Belinda? Has he served jail time for any of these cruel deaths? People tell me nothing has happened, that nothing ever happens to white abortionists who leave young black women dead.”

Fenit Nirappil

The Washington Post, October 17, 2016. Right-to-die law faces skepticism in nation’s capital: ‘It’s really aimed at old black people’

        Many in the black community distrust the health-care system and fear that racism in life will translate into discrimination in death, said Patricia King, a Georgetown Law School professor who has written about the racial dynamics of assisted death. “Historically, African Americans have not had a lot of control over their bodies, and I don’t think offering them assisted suicide is going to make them feel more autonomous,” King said . . . Some African American residents have said the legislation reminds them of the Tuskegee experiments, in which hundreds of black men with syphilis in Alabama unwittingly participated in a 40-year federal study of the disease’s long-term effect. The men were told they were being given “free health care” and were being treated for the disorder, when in fact they were not.


For a lengthier statement on abortion hurting the poor, see this 1972 document from Graciela Olivarez:

The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion 

And for helping to counter the racism, see:

Why the Hyde Amendment Helps Low-Income Women

For more on euthanasia, see our blog post”

Figuring out Euthanasia: What Does it Really Mean?

For a similar blog post featuring those with disabilities, see:

Women with Disabilities Speak




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