A dark chapter in North Carolina’s history is its 20th century eugenics program. Apart from denying the human rights of many disabled people, it had a disproportionate effect on black citizens. According to a study from Duke University, it was designed to “breed out” non-working black residents.
“This suggests that for Blacks, eugenic sterilizations were authorized and administered with the aim of reducing their numbers in the future population -- genocide by any other name,” the authors state.
The article in the American Review Of Political Economy surveyed reports from the North Carolina Eugenics Board about 2,100 authorized sterilizations between 1958 and 1968.
Sterilization rates were much higher in counties with higher numbers of non-working black residents. This was not the case with other racial groups, suggesting, the authors say, that blacks were deemed to be inferior.
“The United Nations’ official definition of genocide includes ‘imposing measures to prevent births within a (national, ethnically, racial or religious) group,’ ” says co-author William A. Darity Jr., a professor of public policy, African and African American Studies and economics at Duke University. “North Carolina’s disproportionate use of eugenic sterilization on its Black citizens was an act of genocide.”
“Controlling Black bodies and their reproductive choices is nothing new,” says co-author Rhonda Sharpe. “Our study shows that North Carolina restricted reproductive freedom, using eugenics to disenfranchise Black residents.”
Between 1929 and 1974, the state’s eugenics program sterilized close to 7,600 men and woman, making it impossible for them to have children, according to the Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. The youngest victims were 10 years old; 85% were female; 40% were minorities including African Americans and Native Americans.
The program had strong defenders -- as this paragraph from a 1950 pamphlet by the Winston-Salem-based Human Betterment League of North Carolina shows:
You wouldn't expect a moron to run a train or a feebleminded woman to teach school. You wouldn't want the state to grant driver's licenses to mental defectives. Yet each day the feebleminded and the mentally defective are entrusted with the most important and far reaching job of all the job of PARENTHOOD!
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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