Anti-Choice Black Clergy Charge Genocide
The Reverend Clenard Childress preaches that
abortion is a form of black genocide. While his message is discordant for
pro-choice African Americans, it doesn't seem to surprise anti-abortion leaders.
Some began recruiting black clergy in the 1990s.
By Erika Beras
Women's E News
(WOMENSENEWS) -- When the Rev. Clenard Childress addresses his congregation he
speaks of Jesus, of loving thy neighbor and about black genocide.
"Abortion," he says, "is the greatest injustice to black women in this country
From the pulpit of his New Jersey Baptist church Childress preaches about many
of the same subjects he addresses in his biweekly radio program, "The Urban
Prophet," and posts on his Web site,
His message is simple: that abortion is being used as a tool of genocide against
blacks who are, as he puts it, "becoming extinct."
Childress is the most sought-after speaker in Life Education and Resource
Network (LEARN), the nation's largest African American anti-abortion
organization. Formed in 1993 by a fellow minister, Johnny Hunter, LEARN serves
as an umbrella group for several dozen anti-abortion religious groups. Childress
joined in 1997, heads its Northeast Chapter, and is national social outreach
LEARN's best-known march was 1999's Say-So March, as in "If you love the
children, say so!" Childress led roughly 1,500 people - a number that organizers
specifically aimed for to represent the 1,452 abortions black women have every
day - on a 10-day trek from New Jersey to Washington, D.C.
His church-based anti-choice demonstrations haven't received much media
attention and Childress feels that is part of the conspiracy. "They don't want
you to know what they are doing. They don't want you to know that we are being
The abortion topic is as controversial in the
black community as in any other segment of the population.
Last week, Congressman Bob Beauprez, who is running for governor in Colorado,
issued a public apology for offending African Americans about remarks he made in
a public radio interview. Beauprez said he found high abortion rates among
blacks - which he calculated at 70 percent - to be "appalling." Beauprez'
campaign could not later verify the statistic. According to the New York-based
Guttmacher Institute, of 1,000 black women of reproductive age, 49 have had
abortions, about three times the rate for white women.
In the last election, George W. Bush received 11 percent of the black vote, an
increase of 2 percent from the 2000 race, and more than any Republican
presidential candidate in history. With a platform based on "values" Bush
appealed to evangelicals, who claim a disproportionately black following.
But while the Republican-led push against abortion may have made inroads among
black groups, it is still outside the political mainstream.
Representatives from both the NAACP and the New York-based National Urban
League, have distanced themselves from certain racial arguments made by the
The pro-choice movement, meanwhile, includes many black leaders such as Edgar
Keemer, a Detroit physician who was jailed for providing abortions to women
before 1973 and Dorothy Brown of Tennessee, who was one of the first state
legislators to introduce a bill to legalize abortion in 1967.
Dorothy Robert, author of "Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the
Meaning of Liberty," a 1997 book about the reproductive rights of black women,
says the movement that Childress is leading discredits their struggle. "I don't
support policies that limit our childbearing but I also don't support policies
that limit our right to abortion."
Civil Rights Argument
Childress and his followers see themselves as
part a new movement for civil rights and argue that abortion is worse than the
Jim Crow era lynchings in the pre-1960s American South and the Tuskegee Syphilis
experiments, where for 40 years, the U.S. government performed experiments on
black men with syphilis without informing them.
LEARN equates the treatment of fetuses as non-humans with views of slaves in
earlier eras. "In the late 1800s, whites said, 'It is your choice to own a
slave,'" says Childress. "It is that word--choice--that is the bane of our
Hunter says they do this for those that cannot do so for themselves: "We fought
for so many rights. The right to vote, the right to an education, but all those
things mean nothing to a dead black child."
Last fall, when former Education Secretary William Bennet commented that "you
could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down,"
Childress' Web site, which usually receives 10,000 hits a week, attracted
800,000, according to the site's administrator.
Childress' race-conscious sentiments don't seem to preclude funding from white
For example, the fliers Childress distributes claim that "lynching is for
amateurs" are printed by Life Dynamics, a radical and mainly white anti-abortion
group based in Denton, Texas.
Both Childress and Hunter say their organization doesn't receive any federally
funded "faith and community-based initiatives" money, and that LEARN subsists on
private donations alone. They decline to provide more information about their
Blacks have been at the forefront of anti-abortion activism for years.
Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a prominent, outspoken
opponent of choice. As a young woman, she herself had two abortions and she
speaks openly on the topic around the country.
Barbara Bell, an elementary school teacher and activist with Massachusetts
Blacks for Life has been active since 1982 and has been arrested 45 times for
protesting in front of clinics.
"I don't believe," she says, "that it was ever our way to slaughter our
But it wasn't until the late 1990s, when groups such as Life Dynamics began
recruiting black clergy that strong organized opposition to abortion began to
appear in the black community.
Group members began surfacing at meetings and members of anti-choice groups
began connecting them to one another. In 1997, Childress attended an Essex
County Right to Life meeting. He walked into the room and was the only African
American there. "They were so excited to see me," he says, "and then they paid
for my flight to fly down to Virginia to meet Johnny Hunter." Hunter and
Childress have been working together ever since.
"Ten years ago," says Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics, "you would not
see people like Clenard on the frontlines."
Hunter, the founder of LEARN, has expanded his work to South Africa, where he
travels four times a year. He preaches abstinence before marriage and the rhythm
method afterwards. "I tell them that condoms and birth control were created by
the white man to keep them down."
Hunter knows his stance against contraception has detractors within the black
anti-abortion community and says he is comfortable with a diversity of views.
"I don't think it should be unified because if we all agreed, then you could
knock one person and the whole thing would fall apart," Hunter says. "Who knows
which strategy will get the job done? I personally think it'll take a
Erika Beras is writing a book about women in hip-hop.
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