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The Eugenics Movement in North Carolina: Conversation with Ashley Graham

Ashley Graham, an Afro-Indigenous senior at Meredith College, decided to write her senior thesis on the Eugenics movement in North Carolina. Ashley's mom is Haliwa-Saponi from Halifax County, and her father is African American from Scotland County. She is a History and Political Science major, and wanted to use her senior thesis as an opportunity to explore an issue that highlights Black Lives Matter and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Men, 2-Spirit+ movements.

She decided to research the Eugenics movement, which she states, "is something that people only think of with Germany in World War II, but it was right here at our door." To narrow her focus, she focused on the increased sterilization or state sanctioned violence on Native American and Black women after the Civil Right's Movement and American Indian Movement. She also described that because of the racial binary in the Jim Crow South, a lot of Southeastern Indigenous People have been erased. As an Afro-Indigenous woman, she laments about uncovering and learning of these horrors.

Ashley met several set-backs during her investigation, and was able to overcome a few barriers with a few incredible BIPOC research pioneers in North Carolina. Dr. Johanna Schoen provided Ashley with the original Sterilization Petitions of American Indian Women, which were difficult to access because the state had sealed the records due to the matter being "controversial." Research from Lumbee scholar and historian, Dr. Malinda Maynor Lowry, assisted Ashley in her analysis of this period in history and how history is connected to the ways that the powers that be continue to erase Indigenous people. Indigenous People in the South were racially misclassified by phenotype. Census records either reported individuals Black, white, or mulatto. Darker hued Indigenous people would be identified as Black, lighter Indigenous people would identified as white, or mulatto completely skewing racial demographics. However, due to a complex relationship with the US government, Lumbee and Cherokee women were allowed to "keep their Indigeneity." The other 6 state-recognized, and 1 unrecognized tribes were either reclassified as Black or white. Those classified as anything but white, would not have access to state run facilities because of segregation.

Ashely had to do some of the petition counting herself in light of the records not being sufficient due to inaccuracies rooted in racial constructs. She notes that when she saw Halifax County, she researched if the victim was Haliwa-Saponi, in Swane County she attempted to confirm enrollment with Cherokee, and Lumbee for Scotland or Robeson County for examples. While reporting her statistics, she would add "and more" for individuals who were not included from Indigenous communities in North Carolina that were not counted as Indigenous.

Out of 8000 sterilization, 45 women were labeled Indigenous. In 1952, she states that there was a shift because the tribes were moving towards statehood and sovereignty.

In terms of the state compensating victims and descendants of victims from these heinous events, Ashely reported that in 2000 Governor Mike Easley issued an apology invested in by the NAACP. The Eugenics movement was written into law in 1919 and ended in 1974. Governor Beverly Perdue created a task force for victim compensation. However, the Jim Crow element was not considered with the actions, because it does not take into account the Black and Indigenous women who did not have access to state-run facilities. Only white women had access in the 1950s. Only 30% of Black women and 10% of Native women were sterilized by an institution.

10 million dollars was allocated to the victim compensation task force, and only 4 million dollars of the fund has been paid out to 220 out of 8000 victims. In 2011, 3000 victims or descendants of the victim were still alive, and the question looms as to when the other 6 million will be allocated to the remaining 3000 families?

The earliest age of sterilization was 10 years old. North Carolina also had a law written in 1933 that stated that social workers could submit petitions for sterlization. Some social workers manipulated individuals to get sterilzed, or having their welfare benefits and source of resources for food taken away. In Black and Indigenous communities, historical trauma and residual impact from attempted genocide, slavery and reconstruction contribute to the racial motivation of the Eugenics movement.

Ashely proclaims that this is a historical wrongdoing that needs to be rectified. Many families have filed an appeal process to be compensated. She suggests that the public do research on this movement and reach out to representatives and tribal leaders and members to see if they are aware of this atrocity. If they are aware, urge them to act.

The Eugenics movement was an active form of genocide by way of white supremacy. Paper genocide also continues to attempt to dictate what Indigeneity is and takes away the right of self-determination and true sovereignty. These sociohistorical factors including sterilization abuse continue to uphold white supremacy, and contribute to anti-Blackness in Indigenous communities. Because of the pressure created by paper genocide, some members of the Indigenous community feel the need to "distance themselves from Blacks."

As Black and Indigenous people, we have to remember what we have in common. We have to continue to form bands of solidarity and remember who we are fighting against.


Contact Roy Cooper's Office and write to your local legislators about compensating the victims of forced sterilization via the Eugenics movement in North Carolina.

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