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New Study Reveals Economic Drivers Behind The Sterilization of Black North Carolinians

The North Carolina Eugenics Board sterilization program sterilized about 7,600 people between 1929 and 1974. A new study reveals the ways that the program targeted poor Black people.
The North Carolina Eugenics Board sterilization program sterilized about 7,600 people between 1929 and 1974. A new study reveals the ways that the program targeted poor Black people.

Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina officials sterilized an estimated 7,600 people, many by force or coercion. The state’s eugenics program targeted people deemed “feebleminded,” sick or living with a disability. 

Host Anita Rao discusses how and why the North Carolina Eugenics Board targeted poor Black people in its more than 40-year-long program with University of New Orleans professor Gregory Price and attorney Valerie Johnson of Johnson and Groninger, PLLC.

A recent study finds that it also targeted Black people considered economically “unproductive” in society. University of New Orleans professor Gregory Price led the research with co-authors William “Sandy” Darity, Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at Duke University, and Rhonda Sharpe, founder and president of the Women’s Institute for Science, Equity and Race.

The scholars found that for Black populations in North Carolina counties in a 10-year period, the number of sterilizations increased with the number of people who were unemployed and supported by the county budget. For other racial groups, the researchers found no correlation between sterilizations and county-supported individuals, which backs their claim that the racial bias of the North Carolina Eugenics Board program had economic motivations.

Host Anita Rao speaks with Price about the study and its implications. She also talks with Valerie Johnson, a Durham-based attorney for Johnson & Groninger PLLC, who helped sterilization survivors file claims for compensation from the state.

Copyright 2020 North Carolina Public Radio

Anita Rao is the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content. She has traveled the country recording interviews for the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps production department, founded and launched a podcast about millennial feminism in the South, and served as the managing editor and regular host of "The State of Things," North Carolina Public Radio's flagship daily, live talk show. Anita was born in a small coal-mining town in Northeast England but spent most of her life growing up in Iowa and has a fond affection for the Midwest.
Kaia Findlay is a producer for The State of Things, WUNC's daily, live talk show. Kaia grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a household filled with teachers and storytellers. In elementary school, she usually fell asleep listening to recordings of 1950s radio comedy programs. After a semester of writing for her high school newspaper, she decided she hated journalism. While pursuing her bachelor’s in environmental studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, she got talked back into it. Kaia received a master’s degree from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism, where she focused on reporting and science communication. She has published stories with Our State Magazine, Indy Week, and HuffPost. She most recently worked as the manager for a podcast on environmental sustainability and higher education. Her reporting passions include climate and the environment, health and science, food and women’s issues. When not working at WUNC, Kaia goes pebble-wrestling, takes long bike rides, and reads while hammocking.