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

Map of North Carolina that shows the rate of sterilization in NC counties.
North Carolina Justice For Sterilization Victims Foundation
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. 

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.

Kaia Findlay is the lead producer of Embodied, WUNC's weekly podcast and radio show about sex, relationships and health. Kaia first joined the WUNC team in 2020 as a producer for The State of Things.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
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