America's pseudo-scientific crusade to create a white, blond, blue-eyed biologically superior "master race" was a misguided and often racist twentieth-century quest called eugenics. More than 27 states joined the shameful decades-long utopian campaign of medically and legislatively engineered racial supremacy. But only one state, North Carolina, is now readying a massive plan of financial reparations to its surviving victims. Just how much North Carolina should pay -- and who should write the check -- is now the subject of a historically wrenching debate even as the state grapples with its $2.4 billion budget deficit.
The compensation effort has been spearheaded by State Rep. Larry Womble, who has devoted the last decade of his life to seeking justice for some of the survivors. In recent days, it seems a majority from both sides of the aisle, as well as Governor Beverly Perdue, endorse the historic move. For sure, the history is a shameful one.
Eugenics was a fraudulent social theory claiming that a better society could be created by eliminating "undesirable" human blood lines, while promoting the "desirable" types. This dark crusade was waged in the first decades of the twentieth century by progressives, liberal do-gooders, and social engineers who sought to forcibly manufacture a utopia. In Greek, the word utopia means "nowhere."
Race science sprang to life in the socio-economically convulsive years of the twentieth century, during which Asians, Eastern Europeans, Southern Europeans, Mexicans, Native Americans, Blacks, and other ethnic groups and racial mixtures inundated U.S. cities, creating overcrowding and class conflict. The intellectual, academic, scientific, and financial elite -- many of them wealthy ranchers and livestock breeders -- believed better men and women could be cultivated using the same techniques a farmer would employ to create a better herd of cattle or field of wheat: eliminate the bad stock and proliferate the good. They planned to eliminate all those who did not resemble themselves, 10 percent at a time -- that is, as many as 14 million people at a slice. Their eventual goal was to subtract as much as 90 percent of the population from the reproductive future of the United States. Eventually, they hoped no one would exist other than those who resembled themselves.
As hard as it may be for post-WWII society to believe, the preferred methods of the eugenics movement were gas chambers and other forms of euthanasia. The first public euthanasia legislation was introduced into the Ohio legislature in 1908. Such measures were unsuccessful. The next best thing was forced surgical sterilization under specific state authority. This policy in many states was validated as the law of the land in the U.S. Supreme Court by one of America's most stellar jurists, Oliver Wendell Holmes. In 1927, Holmes ruled on an obviously collusive lawsuit seeking to justify the forced sterilization of a poor, white, and seemingly uneducated Appalachian named Carrie Buck, as well as her mother, and her average, healthy daughter. Local society undoubtedly denigrated them with the epithet "poor white trash." Carrie Buck's lawyers and the state attorneys were openly in cahoots, manipulating the legal system to uphold the values of racial supremacy -- and sterilize and entire bloodline. They succeeded.
"It is better for all the world," Justice Holmes infamously wrote, "if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind... Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
The U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the flood gates. Ultimately, more than 60,000 Americans, mainly women, were coercively sterilized in more than 27 states. Many were systematically tricked into thinking it was a harmless procedure. At all times, California led the nation in the number of such sterilizations, all taxpayer funded.
America's eugenics movement, powered by millions of dollars from the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Harriman railroad fortune sought to extend its reach into Germany. Rockefeller and Carnegie spent Depression-era fortunes to finance the worst Nazi doctors and race institutes. Hitler promptly implemented American precepts with stunning ferocity and velocity. Among the chief recipients of Rockefeller money was top Nazi doctor Otmar von Verschuer. During the Holocaust, Verschuer's assistant, Josef Mengele, continued eugenic twin research at Auschwitz. Mengele's efforts yielded monstrous experiments. At Nuremberg, the Nazis read the words of Holmes and entered the California statutes in their defense. Nonetheless, Nazi doctors were convicted of genocide.
In the tear-stained ashes of post-Nazi Europe, Americans recoiled at the fruit of their official raceology. Collective amnesia set in. Eugenics was renamed and reinvented as the new science of genetics. Racist and eugenicist benefactors and organizations financed the new naming at several key American universities.
Academic institutions changed their plaques from "Department of Eugenics" to Department of Genetics. Research labs, scientific journals, organizations, and others in the field did likewise. States coast-to-coast began repealing or dead-lettering their eugenics-influenced laws, from marriage prohibition, to compulsory confinement in special colonies, to state-ordered sterilization. Modern genetics, propelled by a new generation of scientists, cast off its genocidal past and raced into the future promising to benefit mankind.
North Carolina, however, continued and accelerated its eugenic practices for years, with vestigial race laws designed and purportedly deployed to eliminate poverty. Pioneer American genetics departments at Wake Forest University and other prestigious academic institutions were funded by such white supremacists as Wycliffe Draper to re-invent race-based eugenics as modern genetics. Buttressed by these academic institutions, whose leaders often melded into the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, the state waged war against its own helpless citizens. The reason: generally little more than the color of one's hair or skin.
From 1946 to 1968, an estimated 7,600 North Carolinians were sterilized, mainly poor blacks. Mecklenburg County led the way by ordering an estimated 468 sterilizations -- three times as many -- as any of North Carolina's 100 counties.
North Carolina's forced surgical sterilization law was repealed only in 2003, but some say even that retained the option when considered "a medical necessity." The long overdue correction repeals Article 7 of Chapter 35, "the law authorizing involuntary sterilizations and permits the sterilization of mentally ill and mentally retarded wards only when there is a medical necessity." Fraudulent mental and psychiatric diagnoses of the never-defined condition known as feeblemindedness, slow learning, and even overly shy smiling women, were common legal justifications for eugenic sterilization.
Now, the state of North Carolina, under the weight of a multi-billion dollar deficit and a rising black political power base, is struggling to augment its official apology for its racist ways into financial compensation.
But can you right a wrong by merely writing a check and who should write that check? North Carolina's eugenic crusade was not just discrimination. It was genocide.
Eugenics and its forced sterilization were repugnant enough to be deemed genocide from the first moments that the term came into use. The United Nations' original Nazi-era Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide identified eugenics and sterilization as genocidal transgressions. Article 2, section D identifies: "imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group."
North Carolina officials always knew their post-war crusade was genocide. The very word "genocide" and its definitions were developed in North Carolina by Rafael Lemkin during his years at Duke University, beginning 1941. His concepts were finally published in 1944.
Certainly, the state of North Carolina must pay compensation for the lasting crime it committed. But who else should pay? Yes, North Carolina was the agent of destruction. But its policies were triggered, spurred on, and validated by the fake race science rocketed throughout society by the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pioneer Fund, and a collection of eminent universities such as Duke, Wake Forest, and Princeton. Article 3 of the Genocide Convention cites as a crime "direct and public incitement to commit genocide" right next to the section which mandates, the list of who "shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials, or private individuals."
It is not only the trigger-pullers of state and county government who must be called to account, but also the taxpayer-enabled philanthropic charities and prestigious universities that pseudo-scientifically justified the unthinkable, making it all possible. What's more, as part of the reparations process, Carnegie and Rockefeller must issue their own apologies alongside that of the one proclaimed by North Carolina's governor -- something these charities have failed to do. They must make financial amends, and then spend significant resources to educate the next generations.
The major universities that carried the torch of genocide cannot hide behind their illustrious seals. They must step forward, confess their role, and establish educational programs -- course content, exhibits, and memorial lectures -- that will highlight what occurred and ensure forever that the shameful nexus between hate and science will never be allowed to re-connect.
The true victims of this tragic national disgrace are not only the survivors now telling their stories, but millions more never born. How do you compensate people and families who do not even exist because of pernicious eugenic laws that criminalized or negated interracial marriage, murdered helpless patients by institutional medical abuse, and sterilized unwanted segments of entire generations?
While money to victims who present themselves can constitute a token of governmental remorse, the best compensation is illumination. Spend resources to document the crime, teach the revelations in our schools, so that the next wave of race scientists will be met with the historical imperative: "never again." Then the checks can actually make a token down payment on righting a wrong. We will never judge people by "the content of their character" if we define them by the color of their chromosomes.
Edwin Black is the bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust and the eugenic chronicle War Against the Weak, which is the basis for the documentary film of the same name. He can be found at www.edwinblack.com and www.waragainsttheweak.com.