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KENNETH C. EDELIN

African-American men for women's rights

Dr. Kenneth C. Edelin, chair-elect of NARAL Pro-Choice America and professor of obstetrics and gynecology and associate dean at Boston University School of Medicine, read the following open letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the March for Women's Lives in Washington last Sunday.

Dear Secretary Powell:

FIFTEEN YEARS ago when I was chair of the Board of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, I got together a group of African-American men -- Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, Ossie Davis, the distinguished actor, Gordon Parks, America's premier photographer, Wynton Marsalis, the award winning jazz and classical trumpeter, Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School -- and we placed public service announcements in publications that reached large numbers of African-Americans, especially women. The ad expressed our strong support for a woman's right to choose. We knew that when abortion is illegal, it is African-American women -- especially young black women -- who suffer most, who are injured by illegal abortions and who die from them. We cannot let our government turn back the clock so that women, especially black women, are hurt and die.

We are not, however, the first African-American men to stand up for the rights of women. Many before us saw the commonality of purpose by those who want to restrict opportunities for African-Americans and those who want to restrict rights for American Women. The great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, stood firmly with Susan B. Anthony and the suffragette movement. She was a strong supporter of Douglass's abolitionist movement. In fact on the day that he died he had given a speech to a group of suffragettes in support of a woman's right to vote as the guest of Susan B. Anthony. He fought the fight until the end of his life. W.E.B. DuBois, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, championed the cause of Margaret Sanger and the family planning movement because he knew that this would help black women have more control of their lives.Martin Luther King Jr. was also a supporter of contraception and the family planning movement. He admired Margaret Sanger's nonviolent tactics and her message. In 1966 he said, "Negroes have a special and urgent concern with family planning as a profoundly important ingredient in their struggle for security and a decent life." Douglas Wilder became the first African-American elected governor of Virginia because he supported a woman's right to choose.

Of course, Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court, was a supporter of Roe v. Wade and worked behind the scenes during deliberations to strengthen it. He also supported Medicaid funding for poor women's abortions. Mr. Secretary, I know that you are prochoice. You have said so. I also know that it must cause you pain when you have to freeze funding for United Nations and World Health Organizations Family Planning Programs. I know it causes you pain to have to enforce regulations which impose a global gag rule so that poor women around the world are denied needed medical information. I know that it causes you pain when you learn that tens of thousands of women's deaths around the world can be traced to these kinds of policies. I know that you do not agree with these policies which you have been forced to implement.My Brother Colin, come on home. You have been a good soldier and you have dutifully followed your commander-in-chief's orders, but now it is time to come on home. African-American men who support a woman's right to choose welcome you with open arms and an open heart. We understand. But Brother Colin, it is now time to come on home. 

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