The Cult of Quality: White Eugenics and Black Responses in the United States, 1900-1934

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Matthew Aron Ginther


This paper focuses on the theory of eugenics and how it was adopted and subverted by black intellectual figures when institutionalized sterilizations were based upon class. The cornerstone of the eugenics theory was based in biological determinism and assumptions of genetic heritability. For black leaders, W.E.B. Du Bois in particular, the early plight for racial legitimacy rested on eugenics and, while morally questionable, strengthening the black community was an attempt to counteract white assumptions. Thus,‘black eugenics’ should not immediately be condemned as an outright failure but should be regarded as an earnest attempt for civil rights. As such, it should not be forgotten and should be recognized as part of the broader framework for African American liberation.