January 3, 2012
ATLANTA – Georgia State University College of Law Professor Paul A. Lombardo was a live guest on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 on December 27 following Elizabeth Cohen's piece on "Forced Sterilization in America."
Cohen's piece focused on North Carolina, which is the first and only state to take steps to compensate victims of forced sterilization. The state estimates that more than 2,000 victims are still alive. For nearly 10 years the state legislature has written reports, submitted and heard testimony from victims. But so far the victims have only received apologies from Gov. Bev Perdue.
From 1907 until the 1970s more than 60,000 Americans were sterilized in 33 states because they had "unfit human traits," Cohen reported. The movement was called eugenics, and its goal was to breed out those considered a burden on society and make "better human beings tomorrow," she said.
In his live discussion with Cooper, Lombardo said North Carolina was unusual in this sense: Most states required people to be in institutions, to be civilly committed, before they could be operated on, but North Carolina was wide open. A social worker, a doctor, the sheriff, the truancy officer or a teacher, anyone could make this recommendation to the eugenics board. In some cases, victims could be sterilized simply for being sexually promiscuous.
"Certainly, sexual misbehavior was high on the list of things that people were sterilized for, not only in North Carolina but in other sates as well," Lombardo said.
Lombardo noted that only seven states have taken any position at all on eugenics and made apologies to victims, leaving 26 states that haven't even gone that far.
"So the idea that the states will face this with compensation skips over the fact that many of them haven't even admitted that it happened," he said.
Lombardo explained that historically, there were people from all parts of the political spectrum that supported eugenics.
"Every president from Teddy Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover, and those in the middle including people like Woodrow Wilson, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, supported some kind of eugenics in the first third of the century," he said. "Today, we've got almost everyone condemning it, but I see very few people coming forward and saying it's time to address this with some kind of compensation."
Lombardo's book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, The Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell (2008), was recognized at the 2009 Library of Virginia Literary Awards; it also earned him designation as a 2009 Georgia Author of the Year. Most recently, Lombardo edited A Century of Eugenics in America: From the Indiana Experiment to the Human Genome Era.
Director of Communications