Appropriating Heroes

Via Yglesias, Susan B. Anthony scholars, Ann Gordon and Lynn Scher comment on Anthony's appropriation by the right wing as anti-abortion:


Last week in Washington, Sarah Palin addressed the Susan B. Anthony List - the political action committee that calls itself the "nerve center of the pro-life movement" - claiming that her opposition to abortion rights was rooted in our "feminist foremothers." No one asked for sources.  

For nearly 30 years, both of us have been immersed in Susan B. Anthony's words - Ann as the editor of Anthony's papers, Lynn as the author of a biography. We have read every single word that this very voluble - and endlessly political - woman left behind. Our conclusion: Anthony spent no time on the politics of abortion. It was of no interest to her, despite living in a society (and a family) where women aborted unwanted pregnancies. 

 The List's mission statement proclaims, "Although [Anthony] is known for helping women win the right to vote, it is often untold in history that she and most early feminists were strongly pro-life." There's a good reason it's "untold:" historians and good journalists rely on evidence. Of which there is none...

Our argument here is not over abortion rights. Rather it is about the erosion of accuracy in history and journalism. If Republicans want to claim Susan B. Anthony, they can certainly boast that she supported the 1872 Republican candidate - Ulysses S. Grant - the one and only time she cast her ballot in a presidential election. It was, of course, against the law and got her convicted as a felon, but that is a story for another time. Still, you have to be careful about your history. In a shout-out to the Tea Party Friday, Sarah Palin said, "That's enough, federal government, enough of your overreach, and we're going to do something about it!" This in the name of a leader who, in her lifetime, was one of America's most consistent advocates of federal power, with its promise of overriding ill-conceived and discriminatory state laws... 

Susan B. Anthony, a lifelong Quaker, included Mormons, Catholics, Christians, Jews and atheists in her movement. But she firmly believed that religion had no place in politics. "I dislike those who know so well what God wants them to do," she said, "because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." On Friday, Sarah Palin called Susan B. Anthony "one of my heroes." And well she should be - as long as Palin understands who Anthony was. And wasn't.

Like Matt, I wouldn't have been surprised if Anthony was, in fact, anti-abortion. Some abolitionists believed blacks were inferior, and a lot more of them would rejoiced at the passage of Prohibition. Regrettably, I'm not surprised to find a right-wing group making shit up, either. These are the people who want to erase the phrase "slave trade" from text books. It's just what they do.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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