Today’s post sheds light on a shameful episode in our state’s history — the practice of forced sterilization of thousands of innocent people at the hands of government authorities — and what was finally done about it.
The surgeries were performed by order of state government to prevent poor people and mentally or physically disadvantaged people from having children; for nearly half a century, North Carolina was one of 33 states to carry out the practice. It’s taken many years (and Republican control of the legislature) but last year, we became the first state in the nation to actually pay reparations to living victims of state-sponsored sterilization programs.
The following post, first published on August 13, 2014, was written by Representative Skip Stam and Ms. Amy O’Neill. Representative Stam is the Speaker Pro Tempore of the North Carolina House of Representatives and holds a Bachelor of Science degree (with High Honor) from Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice and a Juris Doctor degree from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law. He practices law with the Apex firm of Stam and Danchi, PLLC. Amy O’Neal holds a B.A. in Government from Campbell University where she graduated summa cum laude. She is currently working as Representative Stam’s Research Assistant while completing coursework to earn a dual degree (JD and Master of Public Administration) at UNC-Chapel Hill.
For more information on the program’s background and the historic efforts the General Assembly made to right this egregious wrong, be sure to listen to this excellent interview on WFAE 90.7 FM with Speaker of the House (now Senator-elect) Thom Tills, former Representative Larry Womble, and Elaine Riddick, a victim of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program.
Eugenics in North Carolina
By: Rep. Paul Stam and Amy O’Neal1
The Roots of the Eugenics Movement
Today the thought of sterilizing someone against his or her will seems preposterous. However, such a practice was endorsed in the early 20th century by many well-known and well- respected philanthropists like the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Kelloggs, and the Harrimans.2 How was this possible?
The answer: the eugenics movement. In the 1880s Sir Francis Galton, a British polymath, coined the term “eugenics” which literally means “well-born.” Eugenics became a “science” that cited genetics as the main reason for promiscuity, criminal behavior, destitution, feeble-mindedness, and more. Two solutions became popular for ridding society of such behaviors: positive and negative eugenics.3 Positive eugenics encouraged the healthiest, ablest, and fit to have more children. Negative eugenics discouraged the weakest, least able, and unfit of the population from having children — even if discouraging was accomplished through coercion or manipulation.