Twenty-seven American states joined a decades-long pseudo-scientific crusade to create a white, blond, blue-eyed, biologically superior “master race”. Their misguided utopian quest was called eugenics. 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 is now the subject of a historically wrenching debate.
Eugenics was a fraudulent social theory that a better society could be created by eliminating “undesirable” human blood lines and promoting the desirable types. Race science sprang to life in the socioeconomically convulsive first decade of the 20th century, during which Asians, Eastern Europeans, Mexicans, Native Americans, blacks and other ethnic groups and racial mixtures flowed into US cities, creating overcrowding and class conflict. The intellectual, academic, scientific and financial elite 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% at a time – that is, as many as 14 million people, at a slice. Their eventual goal was to eliminate as much as 90% of the population from the reproductive future of the United States.
The preferred method was gas chambers and other forms of euthanasia. The first public euthanasia laws were introduced into the Ohio legislature in 1908. That measure was unsuccessful, as were other death panel bills. The next best thing was forced surgical sterilization under specific state authority that was validated as the law of the land in the US 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 three generations of Carrie Buck’s family. Holmes infamously noted:
“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 … Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Ultimately, more than 60,000 Americans, mainly women, were coercively sterilized. Many victims were systematically tricked into thinking it was a harmless procedure. At all times, California led the nation in the number of such sterilizations.
America’s eugenics movement, powered by millions of dollars from the opulent 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.
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 genetics, and states began repealing or dead-lettering their sterilization-enabling laws.
But not North Carolina, which continued the practice for years, with a vestigial race law designed and purportedly deployed to eliminate poverty. Thousands more were sterilized, mainly poor blacks. Now, the state, under the weight of a multi-billion dollar deficit and a rising black political power base, is struggling to augment an official apology for its racist ways with financial compensation.
Some have suggested $20,000 per survivor. Others suggest $50,000. An estimated 2,900 medically ravaged victims may be qualified. But can you write a wrong by merely writing a check?
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 “undesirable” 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 and ingrain the stain, so that the next wave of race scientists will be met with the historical imperative “never again”.
Then, the checks can actually make a down payment on righting a wrong.