Debra Blackmon was 13 years old in 1972 when two social workers in Mecklenburg County explained to her parents that she needed to be sterilized as soon as possible. “Seriously delayed”, had decreed the medical and judicial authorities of North Carolina. On March 22, the African-American teenager was taken to Charlotte Memorial Hospital, where a doctor performed a hysterectomy. Elaine Riddick had just turned 14 in 1968 when her illiterate grandmother put an “X” at the bottom of a consent form authorizing the sterilization of the young black girl, who became pregnant at the time. following a rape. After the birth of her son Tony, members of the North Carolina Eugenics Council said the new mom was ” freeble-minded “ and of “Light manners”. A few years earlier, in 1965, another African-American teenager, 17-year-old Nial Ruth Cox, had received the same judgment (« feeble minded ») and forced to undergo the same operation in Plymouth, also in North Carolina.
Debra, Elaine, Nial… three stories among thousands, which tell nearly fifty years of a policy of forced sterilization practiced by North Carolina. 7,686 people, men and women, sometimes very young, were victims. At the national level, specialists estimate that more than 60,000 people suffered, in the XXe century, these eugenic practices, authorized in thirty-two states following a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (Buck v. Bell, 1927).
Harry H. Laughlin, the superintendent of the Eugenics Registry had drawn up a list of “Socially unfit persons”, including in particular “The mentally deficient”, “the fools”, “the criminals”, “the drunkards”, “the blind”, “the deaf”, “the deformed”… “The first sterilization law was passed in Indiana in 1907, recalls Barry Mehler, professor of history at Ferris State University (Michigan). When, in 1928, the Swiss canton of Vaud voted in favor of the first European law on sterilization, the Americans had already promulgated nearly thirty of them. “
For M. Mehler, these eugenic policies resembled a form d’“Racial hygiene”, an attempt to purify the « race » groups “Low categories” and « degenerates “. “American and European eugenics created generic racism and sexism – the genetically inferior, continues the academic. Not surprisingly, the victims have always turned out to be the traditional victims of discrimination – Jews, blacks, women and the poor. ” In fact, the black population made up 39% of those sterilized in North Carolina in 1929, then 60% in the late 1960s, according to a study by Lutz Kaelber, associate professor of sociology at the University of Vermont.
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