There’s a meme going around in US conservative social media circles showing American birth control activist Margaret Sanger speaking at a KKK rally. The photo is fake. But… the reproductive rights activist really did address a meeting of KKK members in 1926.
The photoshopped image was created in 2006 as part of a contest from an anti-Sanger blog. Sanger was an early and vocal advocate of birth control, and her legacy is fiercely debated regarding her promotion of eugenics and white supremacy.
The blog contest, unsurprisingly, was pretty specific: Since there are no photos of Sanger addressing the KKK, people were supposed to create art commemorating the event.
Participants in this year’s contest are encouraged to commemorate Sanger at the Klan rally in unique artistic ways. Drawings, cartoons, historical novels, haiku, dance, plays, videos, paintings, quilts, rap, actual photos of Silver Lake, modern interpretations of Sanger speaking to the Klan, reenactments of the actual speech on YouTube, audio recordings of actual Sanger quotes she may have reused when speaking to the Klan – – there is no limit to the artistic ways this historic event can be commemorated.
But one of the images would soon go viral and start to be passed off as real:
The actual photo of Sanger was taken in February of 1931, just before a speech she was going to give in front of the a US Senate committee.
The real KKK image on the other hand, shows Klan members saluting a cross.
But as I said, even though the photo is fake, Sanger really did speak in front of a Klan meeting in 1926. We just don’t have photos from the event. As Sanger explains in her autobiography, it was a strange experience:
Always to me any aroused group was a good group, and therefore I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan at Silver Lake, New Jersey, one of the weirdest experiences I had in lecturing.
My letter of instruction told me what train to take, to walk from the station two blocks straight ahead, then two to the left. I would see a sedan parked in front of a restaurant. If I wished I could have ten minutes for a cup of coffee or bite to eat, because no supper would be served later.
I obeyed orders implicitly, walked the blocks, saw the car, found the restaurant, went in and ordered come cocoa, stayed my allotted ten minutes, then approached the car hesitatingly and spoke to the driver. I received no reply. She might have been totally deaf as far as I was concerned. Mustering up my courage, I climbed in and settled back. Without a turn of the head, a smile, or a word to let me know I was right, she stepped on the self-starter. For fifteen minutes we wound around the streets. It must have been towards six in the afternoon. We took this lonely lane and that through the woods, and an hour later pulled up in a vacant space near a body of water beside a large, unpainted, barnish building.
My driver got out, talked with several other women, then said to me severely, “Wait here. We will come for you.” She disappeared. More cars buzzed up the dusty road into the parking place. Occasionally men dropped wives who walked hurriedly and silently within. This went on mystically until night closed down and I was alone in the dark. A few gleams came through chinks in the window curtains. Even though it was May, I grew chillier and chillier.
After three hours I was summoned at last and entered a bright corridor filled with wraps. As someone came out of the hall I saw through the door dim figures parading with banners and illuminated crosses. I waited another twenty minutes. It was warmer and I did not mind so much. Eventually the lights were switched on, the audience seated itself, and I was escorted to the platform, was introduced, and began to speak.
Never before had I looked into a sea of faces like these. I was sure that if I uttered one word, such as abortion, outside the usual vocabulary of these women they would go off into hysteria. And so my address that night had to be in the most elementary terms, as though I were trying to make children understand.
In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered. The conversation went on and on, and when we were finally through it was too late to return to New York. Under a curfew law everything in Silver Lake shut at nine o’clock. I could not even send a telegram to let my family know whether I had been thrown in the river or was being held incommunicado. It was nearly one before I reached Trenton, and I spent the night in a hotel.
People made other contributions to the 2006 contest, such as this one, archived by the Internet Archive:
But this one didn’t go viral, unlike the other one — which has had a decade-long life floating around the internet. Whatever you think of Sanger’s legacy, photos of her at a Klan rally are fake.
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