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North Carolina's Authoritarian Sterlization Programs Exposed

Courtesy: Arvind Kohli.

The Associated Press, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Dec. 10, 2002

"North Carolina had one of the nation's most aggressive and longest-running eugenics programs, sterilizing 7,600 people - including 2,000 children - between 1929 and 1974. Copies of secret state documents, examined and reported by the Winston-Salem Journal, revealed the extent of the influence exerted by the Eugenics Board of North Carolina. North Carolina ranks third in the nation in numbers of sterilizations done through the program, the newspaper report said."
"Until recently, few details were known about how the Eugenics Board operated or the nature of cases it handled. The Winston-Salem Journal obtained thousands of documents copied 10 years ago by Johanna Schoen, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa."
"Among the documents, the newspaper reported it found: A) More than 2,000 people 18 and younger were sterilized in many questionable cases, including a 10-year-old who was castrated. B) The program was racially balanced in the early years, but by the late 1960s more than 60 percent of those sterilized were black; 99 percent were women. C) Doctors performed sterilizations without authorization, and the Eugenics Board backdated approval. D) Major eugenics research at Wake Forest University was paid for by a patron who had a racial agenda that included a visit to a 1935 Nazi eugenics conference and extensive efforts to overturn key civil-rights legislation."
"The Wake Forest University School of Medicine has begun investigating its role in the eugenics movement. More than 30 states had sterilization programs, but North Carolina's expansion after 1945, when most other states had rejected the science, and its targeting of blacks made it different than most, experts say. 'That's quite astounding,' said Steve Selden, professor at the University of Maryland and author of Inheriting Shame: the Story of Eugenics & Racism in America. The program was run by the state Eugenics Board, a panel of five people who usually decided cases within a few minutes. Supporters of the eugenics movement claimed sterilization could eliminate mental illness, genetic defects and social ills."
" 'They don't want to hear how I feel, or what's going on in my mind. You're pregnant - you need to get sterilization,' said Nial Cox Ramirez, recalling her sterilization in 1965 after having a child out of wedlock. 'And they had the nerve to tell me, 'That's what's best for you.' ' "
"Since Schoen obtained her copies of the records 10 years ago, the N.C. Office of History and Archives has denied other requests, and the records are officially closed to the public. 'I think the problem is that there are cases where sterilization was the solution - but sterilization authorized by the Eugenics Board is never the solution,' Schoen said. California led the nation with more than 20,000 sterilizations; Virginia was second with about 8,000, and North Carolina third. North Carolina's eugenics law, allowed three reasons for sterilization: epilepsy, sickness and feeble-mindedness. But the board almost routinely approved sterilizations for reasons from promiscuity to homosexuality."
Related Links:
Against Their Will: North Carolina's Sterlization Program, By STAFF, Winston-Salem Journal and, Dec. 10, 2002