North Carolina’s shocking history of sterilization

Forced sterilization was the law in 32 U.S. states, and actually inspired the Nazis. We’re just learning the truth

Adapted from “For the Public Good” from “The New New South”

People generally have two reactions when they hear about American eugenics programs for the first time: the first is shock, and the second is distancing. How could those people have done that to them?

Most have heard of the program in Nazi Germany, in which more than 400,000 people considered unworthy of life – those with hereditary illnesses, but also the dissident, the idle, the homosexual, and the weak – were targeted for forced sterilization beginning in the 1930s.

Few realize that the some of the inspiration for Germany’s eugenics program, and even the language for the Nuremberg racial hygiene laws, which among other restrictions banned sexual intercourse between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans, came from eugenicists who had been practicing for years in the United States. Some 60,000 American citizens were sterilized, often under coercion or without consent.
Returning from my first visit with Willis Lynch, I met my in-laws, in town from Northern Virginia, for dinner in Durham, N.C. Lynch was sterilized at age 14 on the recommendation of North Carolina’s Eugenics Board, which determined that he was unfit to father children.