In 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution expressing the state’s “profound regret” over its role in the eugenics movement. More or less passed over in the history books, Virginia played a pivotal role in government sanction of a policy where the mentally ill and indigent were sterilized so they would not pass their genetic material on to other generations. In 1924, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice in Buck v. Bell, in which Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” As a result of the case, Charlottesville native Carrie Buck was sterilized at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded.
Earlier this year, former Delegate Mitch Van Yahres died. Seven years ago, it was his legislation that helped Virginia kind of apologize. I’m reposting this series I produced in part to honor his legacy, but also because I don’t think it gets mentioned enough. It’s been a while since I’ve heard this, and I’ve come a long way as a producer since then. Still, this series won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for best documentary. I’ll post the other three installments in the days to come.
This project was originally funded by a grant to WVTF Public Radio from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.