North Carolina's Pursuit of a Master Race
Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust and War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, which is being reissued in an expanded edition shortly. This extract from the new edition previously appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal, and is reprinted with the kind permission of the author. He will be unveiling the new edition live on an Internet stream on Wednesday, April 24 -- view the feed here.
Of the more than thirty American states that violated one of the most basic rights of their citizens — the right to procreate — few were as pernicious as North Carolina. Yet the nature of North Carolina's history also illustrates the challenge of obtaining modern-day justice, even when the most energetic efforts are undertaken.
Most importantly, the crimes committed by the state in conjunction with the leading academic, scientific, judicial, legal, and medical authorities were never about just improving perceived conditions in North Carolina. Rather, it was always about the state doing its fair share to achieve international race purification. This meant close coordination, cooperation, and synchrony with the most virulent eugenic leaders around the world, from California to Connecticut to Nazi Germany.
What North Carolina did was never a local transgression; it was part of a global aggression in pursuit of a master race.
[North Carolina's] sterilization statute was updated in 1929, resulting in forced surgeries on forty-nine individuals. That law was overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court for its lack of due process, leading to a prompt revision by the legislature. In this effort, the legislature was assisted by a number of local law schools, including the University of North Carolina Law School in association with the Duke Legal Aid Clinic.
North Carolina legislators and its eugenic advocates worked closely with Harry Laughlin, the head of the Carnegie Institution's Eugenic Record Office located at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. Laughlin was arguably the central irrepressible force in America framing state-by-state legislation designed to eliminate "unwanted" segments of society.
North Carolina eugenic officials also worked closely with the Human Betterment Foundation, a collection of openly rabid Nazi stalwarts located in Pasadena, California. Human Betterment Foundation founder and president E.S. Gosney had counseled Germany's newly installed Reich leaders on proper eugenic enforcement, including courtroom "trials" where individuals were accused by prosecutors of hereditary defects and were obliged to prove otherwise with "evidence."
North Carolina's Eugenics Board seemed less conscious of any state role, but was rather part of the broad movement of ethnic cleansing, in lockstep with Laughlin of Long Island, the Human Betterment Foundation in Pasadena, national race purification trends, and German eugenics.
As much as North Carolina gauged its progress within the national and international eugenics movement, likewise the global movement maintained a close watch on North Carolina's progress. Laughlin and others held the view that the state's population was riddled with unfit humans, and that their spawn had infiltrated the entire United States.
In 1936, Laughlin was commissioned by Connecticut governor Wilbur Cross to undertake a "Survey of the Human Resources of Connecticut." The purpose? To bring Nazi-style ethnic cleansing to Connecticut in an organized, scientific fashion.
"[A]liens" would be rounded up, their assets seized, and they would then be "deported" to their ancestral states or regions. Reciprocal legislation between states was envisioned.
When the limit of re-absorption of the deported masses was reached, special "population control" measures were to be undertaken. Five measures were cited: 1) Migration Control "to enforce deportation"; 2) Marriage Restriction; 3) Sterilization; 4) Segregation and Incarceration "for the prevention of their living again in their handicapped offspring in the next generation," which would necessitate confinement camps; and 5) Euthanasia. Laughlin explained, "In some communities 'mercy death' has been advocated in certain extreme cases … but the modern American state has not yet worked out 'due process of law' nor has it yet decided on who should sit in judgment."
Among the many ancestral states long under particular scrutiny for their Appalachians and freed slaves were Kentucky, Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina. These were to receive thousands of Connecticut's deportees. If the notion spread, similar deportation policies would be adopted by other states.
But the mass deportations, recipient-state incarceration camps, and euthanasia mills never happened. Within weeks of the plan's launch in Rocky Hill, Governor Cross lost the 1938 election. With Cross out of office, Laughlin's entire project was quietly abandoned.
After World War II, as the smoke cleared from millions murdered in the name of racial supremacy, international law officially declared that hampering reproduction of any ethnic group constituted "genocide."
Many North Carolinians were still targeted for bloodline termination because of their poverty, ancestry, or appearance. The prospect became a passion for hold-out eugenicists across the nation. They found common cause with confirmed eugenicists in several of North Carolina's best universities. Several leading doctrinaire eugenicists found a home at Bowman Gray School of Medicine, now known as Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The school hosted the first department of medical genetics in America.
Wycliffe Draper, an unabashed Nazi enthusiast and heir to a New England textile fortune, donated money to Bowman Gray School of Medicine.
Others around the nation rallied to North Carolina's eugenic crusade. Racist Massachusetts financier Clarence Gamble, heir to the Proctor and Gamble fortune and a Nazi zealot, donated large sums to finance research and individual sterilizations as well as related state efforts.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, sterilizations continued at a startling pace.
This systematic action was taken in spite of the fact that the term genocide was actually developed in North Carolina by Raphael Lemkin, on the campus of Duke University, during the Holocaust era. Lemkin identified interfering with births as one of the five major crimes of genocide. North Carolina knew the thick red line it had crossed.
The question is: Can you really write a check for genocide? If so, who should write it? Who should receive it? Certainly, those who survived the surgeries should receive reparation as a down payment on justice. But the larger question is adjudicating the role of the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pioneer Fund, a cohort of prominent universities, medical and legal societies, and many other esteemed organizations that energetically helped North Carolina execute a campaign of genocide against its own citizens.
More compelling questions exist: What will be done in North Carolina and other states to ensure that society will be sufficiently educated to never again allow such a crime to occur?
This calls for the type of education now addressing slavery and the Holocaust. But the universities remain silent, perhaps hoping no one will notice their historic roles. When will those with compensation on their mind understand who the real victims are? Is it the men and women who survived the knife, the people we can still hear and see? Or are the most important and most numerous victims the innocent, never-born generations that cannot be seen or heard — that is, not easily. Listen carefully; you might hear them faintly or sense their translucent presence. They too might be asking one question: Why?
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