Tuesday, June 23, 2009

North Carolina Dedicates Eugenics Historical Marker

On June 22, 2009, the North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program dedicated a new marker in Raleigh to commemorate the victims of the state's Eugenics Sterilization Program, which was authorized by the North Carolina legislature in 1929. The Eugenics Board was created in 1933 to review all sterilization requests, and between 1929 and 1974, over 7,600 individuals were sterilized. In 1972 the Eugenics Board became the Eugenics Commission before being abolished in 1977.

Eugenics was a neologism created by Sir Francis Galton, who elaborated his theory of improving natural selection for humans in his 1883 work, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development. Sterilization laws were later adopted by over 30 states in the U.S., but were challenged in 1927 in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200. In upholding such laws, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered the opinion of the Court, infamously asserting:
"It is better for all the world 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. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

The General Assembly of North Carolina currently has two bills pending related to eugenics: House Bill 21 (Eugenics Program--Support and Education) and Senate Bill 179 (Sterilization Compensation). For further information on this legislation and the history of eugenics in North Carolina, please see an earlier Carolina Curator post.

In addition, Special Collections at UNC Health Sciences Library has digitized all volumes of the Biennial Report of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina [1934-1966], as well as North Carolina journals and documents in public health and other areas as part of an ongoing digital initiative.

Note: The images below are from the Historical Marker Database; full entries are available online for Indiana, the first state to pass eugenics legislation, and Virginia, the source of the landmark Buck v. Bell sterilization case.

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