Eugenics: Supported Racism of a Historical Disgrace

Medically sanctioned selective genocide was cloaked in the term “eugenics”, popular in the early 1900’s and justified to improve the American populations’ genetic composition through racial purification.

Sound familiar? Could the eugenic movement in the US have actually fueled Hitler’s criminal annihilation of over 6 million Jews? During the war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg after World War II, prominent Nazi leaders cited the US as inspirational for their own mass non-consented sterilization of 450,000 victims over a decade.

Based on popular theories of the time, eugenic philosophy sought justification. Mendelian geneticist believed certain traits were passed to offspring from parents and/or previous generations. In addition, Friedrich Weismann”s germ plasma theory identified germ or reproductive cells as the means of transferring these traits. Staunch eugenicists later concluded based on this literature that concerning transferable traits like alcoholism, mental retardation, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, poor intelligence and undesirable phenotypes (appearances) could be erased from future generations through selective, non-consented sterilization.

In 1912, the First International Congress of Eugenics was held and supported by many prominent individuals. They included president Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin who formulated the “survival of the fittest” and “evolution” concepts. Also affiliates were Winston Churchill, future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Auguste Forel, famous Swiss pathologist and Alexander Graham Bell, American inventor of the telephone. Those who later contributed significant financial boosts were Dr. Clarence Gamble of Procter and Gamble and James Hanes of the famous hosiery company.

Charles Benedict Davenport, the “father of the American eugenics movement”, set up in the US, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), in 1910. Here were collected hundreds of thousands of medical histories from unsuspecting Americans, with selections based on race, intellect, ethnicity, immigration status, economic or social poverty. The focus was human population improvement via selective breeding.

“We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population,” stated Margaret Sanger, American eugenicists. Now sometimes we are accused of taking statements out of context, so here is the entire quote, “We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population…” This was in reference to her founding and institution of the “Negro Project”, which was a plan to focus on sterilization of the poor and immigrant, with emphasis on African-Americans. This later transformed into Planned Parenthood, whose initial purpose was to maintain American population integrity by preventing the passage of era considered undesirable traits. Sanger aligned herself with the eugenic philosophy and was an invited speaker at Klu Klux Klan rallies.

Starting with Indiana in 1907, eugenic boards were established in 31 states. Often with a minimal number of members, decisions for sterilizations were made with little to no interference and based on anyone’s subjective impression of undesirability. Over 60,000 Americans were involuntarily sterilized, with 30,000 in California alone. Most were completely unaware their fertility had been removed. These common practices on the considered “less desirable” lasted until 1963. Some eugenic laws allowing forcible sterilization have stayed on the books until as late a 2003.

Recently, past eugenic behaviors, which targeted area women, mainly African-Americans and the poor, has come to light in North Carolina. With 2,000 sterilization victims from here still alive, their voices have recently become audible. North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue, in a NBC interview stated, “You can’t rewind a watch or rewrite history. You just have to go forward and that’s what we’re trying to do in North Carolina.” Although the state issued an apology for its involvement in this eugenic behavior, no known financial compensation has been awarded to the victims.

During the “Eugenic Era”, anyone could make a recommendation to the state’s eugenic board, to rid society of any and all of their preconceived unfavorable humans. One candidate was approved on the simple statement she was, “feeble-minded and promiscuous … schoolwork was poor and that she does not get along well with others.” Initially, non-entitled obstructive passage of traits like mental illness and retardation soon included any racial or ethnic bias and ended with sterilizations based on complaints as simple as, “She’s too ugly.”