‘Act of genocide.’ Eugenics program tried to ‘breed out’ Black people in NC, report says

For more than four decades North Carolina’s statewide eugenics program forcibly sterilized almost 7,600 people — many of whom were Black.

That wasn’t a coincidence, according to a new academic paper.

Duke University professor William A. Darity Jr. co-authored a report published in the American Review of Political Economy that correlates 10 years of forced sterilizations in counties across the state with the number of unemployed Black residents, finding the program was all but designed to “breed (them) out,” according to a university news release.

“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 paper states.

Eugenics is another word for the selective breeding of humans.

A page from a eugenics pamphlet in the 1930s
A page from a eugenics pamphlet in the 1930s

From 1929 to 1974, North Carolina’s eugenics program sterilized close to 7,600 men and woman, making it impossible for them to reproduce or conceive, according to The Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation.

The foundation was established by the N.C. Department of Administration in 2010 to pay reparations to the surviving victims of the state’s eugenics program. Legislators ultimately set aside $10 million in the state budget to pay those victims, The News & Observer reported.

The first checks, written for $20,000 each, were mailed to 220 of those survivors in 2014.

The law does not, however, apply to individuals who were sterilized by local health or welfare departments, The Charlotte Observer reported later that year.

North Carolina’s eugenics program was one of many in the U.S. targeting people with illnesses or disabilities living in state institutions, but it was later touted “as one of several solutions to poverty and illegitimacy,” the foundation says. That meant sterilization petitions weren’t just submitted by hospitals but also by local welfare officials and county boards of commissioners, according to Darity’s paper.

“As such, the scope of North Carolina’s eugenic sterilization law extended directly to recipients of public welfare,” the paper states.

According to The Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, the majority of victims in other states were sterilized before World War II, but more than 70% of North Carolina’s occurred after 1945.

Many of those victims were white woman not living in institutions and Black people, the foundation says.

Documents on the victims of the N.C. Eugenics Board sit in the North Carolina State Archives.
Documents on the victims of the N.C. Eugenics Board sit in the North Carolina State Archives.

Darity is a professor of public policy, African and African American Studies and economics at Duke. Together with lead author Gregory N. Price, an economics professor at the University of New Orleans, and Rhonda V. Sharpe, the founder and president of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity, and Race, they analyzed more than 2,100 forced sterilizations that occurred between 1958 and 1968 in North Carolina.

The trio specifically looked at what’s known as “surplus population” — meaning people who are not part of the labor force and often need government assistance, according to the university news release.

During that 10-year period, Darity and his co-authors found local sterilization rates paralleled the size of its surplus population only when that population was Black.

“The United Nations’ official definition of genocide includes ‘imposing measures to prevent births within a (national, ethnically, racial or religious) group,’” Darity said in the release. “North Carolina’s disproportionate use of eugenic sterilization on its Black citizens was an act of genocide.”