A sterilization program conducted in the US state of North Carolina between 1929 and 1974 specifically targeted black Americans and met the definition of genocide, according to a study released this week.
Nearly 7,600 African American men, women and children, sometimes as young as 10, have undergone surgical sterilization as part of a program created to serve “the public interest” by preventing “weak-minded” people from reproducing. Most surgeries were performed by force, although some women who otherwise had no contraception resorted to them, declaring themselves an unfit mother.
The study, published in the American Review of Political Economy, looked at the years 1958 to 1968, a period in which more than 2,100 sterilizations were performed in the state. According to the authors, sterilizations have increased as the size of the unemployed black population has increased – without whites or people of other jobless backgrounds being targeted to the same extent.
“The disproportionate use of eugenic sterilization in North Carolina on black citizens was an act of genocide,” according to William Darity Jr, professor at Duke University and co-author of the study. The definition of genocide according to the United Nations implies the will “to destroy, or in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”, including by adopting “measures aimed at preventing births within the group, ge recalls.
Previous work has shown the program to be disproportionately targeted at blacks, but this new study sheds light on the mechanics used and why.
“Controlling black bodies and their reproductive choices is nothing new,” according to co-author Rhonda Sharpe, of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity, and Race. “Our study shows that North Carolina has restricted reproductive freedom, using eugenics to disenfranchise black residents,” she adds.
The state set up in 2010 a foundation and a compensation fund for the victims of the program who are still alive. The first checks, for $ 20,000 each, were sent to 220 of them in 2014, according to local daily The News & Observer.