The mission of the National Portrait Gallery is to tell the story of America by portraying the people who shape the nation's history, development and culture."
So states the home page of the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in our Nation's Capitol, Washington, DC. If you are like many Americans, you have never visited the gallery, so you may be unaware of an ongoing exhibition there that is connected to the current controversy over the video exposes of Planned Parenthood by the Center for Medical Progress. The exhibition that I refer to is titled, "Struggles for Justice."
While you should visit the National Portrait Gallery if you visit Washington, or live near by, you do not have to do so to take advantage of the "Struggles for Justice" Exhibition. The National Portrait Gallery has created an online home for the gallery here. The web home of the Exhibition includes a series of videos by CNN news reader Soledad O'Brien, photographs and texts of the portrait elements, and even lesson plans for use by teachers of students in 7th to 12th grade American history classes. When you visit the homepage, you will see the front page that is reproduced to the right.
I refuse to have a charge laid at my feet that this post reflects my view that the National Portrait Gallery should not have an exhibition dedicated to "The Struggle for Justice."
Justice does not grace a Nation as a bough of flowers graces the head of a bride. The comparison fails to comprehend that justice is the product of diligent labor. As a follower of Christ, an admittedly broken one, I am convinced that (a) justice is an attribute of the Divine, (b) can be reflected in men because we are created by Nature and Nature's God, and (c) evades men as they evade Nature's God.
Justice should be a hallmark of our Nation. When it has not been, the effect of its absence is almost always immediately capable of diagnosis and repair. Those eras in which justice evaded us as a People included our Nation's overly long affair with the Peculiar Institution of Slavery. About the injustice of slavery, Thomas Jefferson, writing in his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, said something that should have troubled every heart open to his words:
Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever[.]Of course, the injustice of slavery brought the horror of war on the Nation. I will not mince with those who say the Civil War was about slavery, that the Civil War was not about slavery. Keeping Jefferson's fearful understanding of divine Justice in mind, we can grasp that, whether the Nation continued a single whole or fractured in secession, the kind of Justice that cause Jefferson to tremble in contemplation whereof was realized in the blood, gore, maiming and death of half a million Americans, and the spoliation of some 80 billion dollars in Union and Confederate wealth.
Perhaps you will call me a crazed fanatic to suspect that the divine hand of retribution for slavery's depredations can be traced right through the blood and gore of that War? If so, then you must think Abraham Lincoln such a crazed fanatic. In his Second Inaugural Address, he proposed that the costs of the war, in monies and in lives, might well have embodied the judgment of the Almighty on the Nation:
The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."The injustice that was the Peculiar Institution of Slavery ill-suited the experiment in liberty that is, and has been, this Nation. Slavery was not the only injustice that wanted correction.
There was the subsequent era of LEGALIZED discrimination. I am not speaking about private decisions about relationships of personal, economic and social natures: liberty requires that even the idiot's right to disregard the humanity of the person across the counter from them be protected from government oppression. The GOVERNMENT, however, should never have given legal countenance to, approval to, or shelter to, such unreasoned discourtesy, such baseless prejudice.
The civil rights movement answered the era of LEGALLY APPROVED discrimination embodied in Jim Crow laws enacted in Democrat-party controlled States around the Nation. Jim Crow laws that would have been held unconstitutional at the dawn of the 20th Century, had there been other justices like Justice Harlan, the sole voice of dissent against the "separate but equal" accommodations law sustained by a bevy of Democrat-appointed Justices on the US Supreme Court in the noxious Plessy v. Ferguson case.
More injustices polluted our land because of our wrongful treatment of the Native Peoples of America. From dishonest dealings among Indians by early traders and settlers to massive pogroms like the Trail of Tears, our Nation oppressed the First Americans in the name of "Manifest Destiny." Manifest Destiny, in its "virtuous" rendition, proposed that it was the destiny of the English settlers of the Eastern seaboard to expand their holdings in land, and their settlements in communities, farms, and manufacturing, to the furthest western extent of the continent.
In its most bizarre and uncloaked iteration, Manifest Destiny was a fanatical romp from Nationalism to Empire. Hear that more troubling iteration in the voice of a member of the Senate, Albert J. Beveridge, of Indiana, speaking in 1909, on the floor of the US Senate:
[T]he times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever, "territory belonging to the United States," as the Constitution calls them. And just beyond the Philippines are China's illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either. We will not repudiate our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon our opportunity in the Orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world. And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.
[T]his question is deeper than any question of party politics: deeper than any question of the isolated policy of our country even; deeper even than any question of constitutional power. It is elemental. It is racial. God has not been preparing the English-speaking and Teutonic peoples for a thousand years for nothing hut vain and idle self-contemplation and self-admiration. No! He has made us the master organizers of the world to establish system where chaos reigns. He has given its the spirit of progress to overwhelm the forces of reaction throughout the earth. He has made us adepts in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples. Were it not for such a force as this the world would relapse into barbarism and night. And of all our race He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man. We are trustees of the world's progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The judgment of the Master is upon us: "Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you ruler over many thing."So, to be clear, I do not object to the thought, time and labor spent developing the necessary elements to create "The Struggle for Justice" exhibition. "Justice, justice shall you pursue!"
When a worthy idea goes so far afield, however, those that value the idea unspoiled should speak up and lend their voices to a call to amend.
And, yes, "The Struggle for Justice" went quite far afield. How far afield?
Well, this far:
If you go to the online gallery and page through the portraits, you will find a portrait of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., included as number 14 in the series. Number 16 in the series is a portrait of Rosa Parks, whose well-deserved fame arose from her refusal to sit in the back of a public bus during the waning days of Jim Crow laws.
What is so out of place about these portraits, both Americans important for both the symbol and the substance of the quest for justice?
Taken by themselves, there is nothing out of place about ensconcing Reverend King and Miss Parks in a pantheon of activists for American justice, nothing at all.
But tucked between King and Parks, there is a gauche miscalculation and error of judgment. Portrait number 15 is a photograph of one of the busts on display in the gallery exhibit. The bust is of Margaret Sanger, a racist, a supporter of eugenics, and the founder of Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood, you will recall, is the subject of intense scrutiny because of its involvement in harvesting tissues and organs for use by researchers from babies it aborts.
|Screen Capture of National Portrait Gallery online Exhibition|
In response to a recent suggestion in the New York Times to place Sanger on the Twenty Dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson, John Zmirak, a contributing editor at The Stream, offered five good reasons to reject the idea. He rejects such an honor for Sanger because:
- She saw human beings as unwanted pets.
- She believed that criminal tendencies are inherited.
- She wanted the federal government to decide how many children each couple could have.
- She was a racist.
- She believed that the state should select who could have a family based on IQ tests.
Now, that was a quick read. For Zimrak's more complete explanation, see his posting here.
Wait a second.
"4. She was a racist."
Let it sink in. Savor the flavor of what you just read. Let it play on the tongue of your mind the way a mellow brandy might on the tongue in your mouth.
The Smithsonian Institution has turned the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., the noble and self-sacrificing leader of non-violent opposition to segregation, and Miss Rosa Parks, the iconic individual who stood against the bullying racism of Jim Crow, into mere bookends for a woman that viewed those of King's and Parks' race as weeds, as undesirable, as less fit.
Yes, you should ask the question. You should ask it again and again and again.
The eugenics Sanger loved gave rise to the institutionalized terror of forced sterilization in Virginia and other States, long before it became a war crime committed by the German medical community against German disabled. The organization she created, then called The Birth Control League, and now known as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has become the single largest purveyor of abortions in the United States. The work she began, had it succeeded in the way she contemplated, would have resolved the problems Democrats created with their policy of "separate but equal" by substituting for it a policy of "nonexistent but equal." Except, of course, as her writings prove beyond dispute, her actual policy goal for African Americans was "non-existent because NOT equal."
Sanger's inclusion in "The Struggle for Justice" is a terrible disservice to true iconic figures in the American struggle for justice, including her gallery bookends, Rev. King and Miss Parks. You may realize this fact: The Smithsonian Institution is an educational institution. Even its web address SI.edu says that it is one. Yet, one you review the rather selective information provided about Margaret Sanger, when you consider the rather selective omission of her racism and class ism from the onscreen mini-bio, you wonder if perhaps the faculty of the Corinthian Colleges might have found new digs following the belly-up of the for-profit college.
In fact, either the curators of this exhibit are woefully ignorant, or craftily designing.
If they did not know about the precise offense of Sanger's eugenics -- that she considered African Americans an undesirable population to be weeded out -- then they have no business curating exhibits at a Museum that says of itself, "The mission of the National Portrait Gallery is to tell the story of America by portraying the people who shape the nation's history, development and culture." How can it be that Sanger's racism, class-ism, and support for eugenics, including forced sterilization, escaped their notice.
It is possible that they were aware of the real Margaret Sanger. The online mini-bio acknowledges her support for involuntary sterilization. That defect itself ought to have raised the flag on including Sanger. But if they were not ignorant then just how jaded must they have been to choose to put Sanger between representatives of the race she considered weeds? One answer occurs to my mind: misanthropy, that loathsome contempt for others that too often is accompanied by the carefully planted "gotcha," and Sanger's inclusion most certainly qualifies as one.
Now, the wrongfulness of including Sanger in the exhibition has not escaped notice. Former candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Bishop E.W. Jackson, Jr., has asked the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery to remove Margaret Sanger from the exhibition. Jackson provided ample information in his request, and you can read more about that here (the lap dance media has not seen fit to cover this topic yet). Jackson has also set up a petition to the same end on the CitizenGo website. If you are inclined, you can read and sign the petition here.
It remains to be seen how the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Institution will respond to this shameful episode.
The National Portrait Gallery represents and puts into context significant American biographies through portraiture. It was chartered not to be a hall of fame, but to collect and display portraits of individuals who represent the full spectrum of the American experience—the admirable and inspiring personalities, as well as others whose lives were complicated and complex. We are both a history museum and an art museum, requiring that we see the past clearly and objectively. Margaret Sanger is included in the museum’s collection, not in tribute to all her beliefs, many of which are now controversial, but because of her leading role in early efforts to distribute information about birth control and medical information to disadvantaged women, as well as her later roles associated with developing modern methods of contraception and in founding Planned Parenthood of America.
Nonetheless, Sanger’s alliance with aspects of the eugenics movement raises questions about her motivations and intentions. The museum’s intent is not to honor her in an unqualified way, but rather to stimulate our audiences to reflect on the experience of Americans who struggled to improve the civil and social conditions of 20th-century America.Notice that remark, "The museum's intent is not to honor her in an unqualified way"?
How is that for some nifty double speak?
Is the museum's intent to honor her, then, in a qualified way?
Or, is it that the museum intends not to honor her at all, because, after all, they are "not a hall of fame," but an institution that "collect[s] and display[s] portraits of individuals who represent the full spectrum of the American experience"?
Let us suppose that no honor is intended by the inclusion of any portrait, painting, watercolor, or bust of an American in the "The Struggle for Justice."
We could suppose that, given that the National Portrait Gallery would like, now, to qualify its reasons for including Margaret Sanger in the collection. If, in fact, the goal is to teach us about "The Struggle for Justice" in America free from any perceived endorsement of the good or the value of "justice," we could test the claim by asking about "others whose lives were complicated and complex" and have something to do with the "The Struggle for Justice."
So, then, if Sanger, who loathed African Americans and sought to reduce their population in the United States is included "because at least she made sure the women's equality train" ran on time, here are some Americans that might well meet the National Portrait Gallery's interesting test for inclusion:
- Grand Dragon Robert Byrd, Klansman and Senate Majority Leader (D-WV)
- Albert Gore, Sr., Senator (D-TN) and opponent of the Civil Rights Act
- George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, failed Presidential candidate and author of "Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever" slogan
- Theophilus "Bull" Connor, Birmingham, Alabama Public Safety Commissioner
Why not include Phyllis Schlafly? Yes, she opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, but at the same time, she demonstrated to women that they could succeed and excel in organization, in legal studies, in understanding national defense?
Why not include the First Presidency of the Mormon Church? Yes, they too opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, yet they temporized that Church's view on the nature of black human beings in the spiritual life of the church.
Why not include New York college students who served as strike breakers in the early 1900s when New York transit line workers went on strike? Sure, they kept the system running and, thus, weakened the impact of labor actions by railway workers, but many of them went on to promising careers of all kinds.
You see, when Marge Schott minimized the horror Hitler's Third Reich because "at least the trains ran on time," no one took her seriously. I am just wondering why the curator of the "Struggle for Justice" exhibition did.