Over 7,600 women in the state of North Carolina alone were victims of forced sterilization according to recent news reports.
The state’s program occurred between 1929 and 1974. While aimed at poor women in general, African American women were special targets.
The Charlette Observer writes that North Carolina’s laws allowed for sterilization of: “People with a mental illness, such as schizophrenia. People with epilepsy. And people who were classified as ‘feebleminded’ – which generally meant they had an IQ of less than 70.”
North Carolina’s law allowing the practice was only repealed in the 1990s. The mid-Atlantic state, which was the site of many important civil rights and labor battles, was only one of many states that practiced such methods.
MSNBC’s Rock Center writes that “North Carolina was one of 31 states to have a government run eugenics program. By the 1960s, tens of thousands of Americans were sterilized as a result of these programs.”
Eugenics is a racist theory of population control and genocide that advocated selective breeding to “improve” the gene pool. It gained popularity in the the 1920s and was widely used by the Nazis in Germany.
In the U.S. the program had strong backing from big business. The MSNBC story says, “Some of America’s wealthiest businessmen of the time were eugenicists including Dr. Clarence Gamble of Proctor and Gamble and James Hanes of the hosiery fortune. Hanes helped found the Human Betterment League which promoted the cause of eugenicists.”
In 1951 William L Patterson and Paul Robeson presented the We Charge Genocide Petition to the United Nations arguing that African Americans were victims of systematic government and business-led discrimination and violence. It is unknown if sterilization was among the actions they were referring to. At the time the authors wrote, “Our evidence is admittedly incomplete.”
But clearly forced sterilization can now be added to list.
Over 1,500 of the victims in North Carolina are believed to be still alive. Only 48, however, have been identified, says the Charlette Observer.
A task force has been created to consider financial compensation.