Why the State of Virginia Sterilized Carrie Buck —
The Eugenics Movement and Buck vs. Bell
The Eugenics Movement of the 1920’s had a cause celebre in Buck vs. Bell. Eugenics proponents found in the Buck family what they thought was a perfect example of the kind of people who should be eliminated from the gene pool. Carrie was born illegitimate and poor, and had given birth to another illegimate child, who, at 7 months of age, was judged, along with her mother and grandmother, to be feebleminded. (It is now known that the pregnancy was the result of her rape by the nephew of her foster parents.) A suit was brought to the Supreme Court, where no less than Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared it legal for the State of Virginia to forcibly sterilize her, bringing on a victory for the Eugenics Movement, and fifty years of legally sanctioned forced sterilizations across the country.
Mon-gol-oid: 1: of, constituing, or characteristic of a major racial stock native to Asia as classified according to physical feastures (as the presence of an epicanthic fold) that includes peoples of northern and eastern Asia, Malaysians, Eskimos, and often American Indians. 2: of, relating to, or affected with Down’s syndrome. – Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.
Carrie Buck was from the Lynchburg, VA area. When whites first explored the area the Tutelo Indians were living there. Many of them eventually fled to Canada, where they were adopted by the Cayuga.
John Buck, Chief of the Tutelo, d. February 17, 1936.
A notable Chief of the Tutelo incorporated with the Six Nations, perhaps the last man to hold that title, was John Buck. There are a good many Tutelo descendants among the Cayuga to this day by the name of Buck. The name is also associated with Virginia families believed to be of Tutelo origin. A made-for-TV movie was made about Carrie’s life called “Against Her Wil.” A review of it can be seen at https://web.archive.org/web/20010512213216/http://clem.mscd.edu/~princer/review3.htmThe reviewer, R. Prince, reports that some of the movie is factual: “Carrie’s separation from her infant, Vivian and her forced encarceration in the Lynchburg Colony for having been an unwed mother are accurate. So is the contrived `kangaroo court’ process which leads her case from the Lynchburg Colony [for Epileptics and the Feebleminded] in 1924 to the Supreme Court on May 2, 1927 which was soon followed by Buck’s sterilization.” R. Prince goes on to say:
Far less plausible – one has to wonder why she was thus portrayed – was the portrayal of Carrie as mildly mentally retarded. There is nothing – no factual data – to indicate that she was anything but normal. There is no indication that she spoke with some kind of speech impediment or that she was mentally anything other than normal. This odd portrayal could suggest that perhaps she deserved what she got. I found it disturbing. – R. Prince
The movie added an inappropriate romantic twist. Carrie’s lawyer was played by Melissa Gilbert, who, if the plot is accurate was the fiancee of the attorney who was pleading IN FAVOR of Carrie’s sterilization. Uh, isn’t that’s what’s known as a CONFLICT OF INTEREST?? How could such a flagrant irregularity make it all the way to the Supreme Court? The subplot of this relationship was apparently employed to beef up the story. Obviously, the filmmakers missed the real subplot that those of here at www.saponitown.com could have told them. We know she was one of our own. She was a marooned Eastern Siouan “Saponi/Tutelo” descendant who was, because of her origins, seen by the legal and medical clowns sealing her fate as belonging “to the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.” In Canada, people like us were called Metís. But the preceding quote from the man who ran the asylum to which she was committed, sums up what many of us were called stateside. I had a friend who was a comic. He had a routine he whipped on me once when he had me gasping for air after a string of extreme witticisms. He confided that he was mentally retarded. “Yeah, right, I said, you’re one of the cleverest people I know.” He told me that was just my prejudice against retarded people. They can be clever too. Then he got very serious and told me, it was true, he was documented as retarded on his birth certificate. He was listed as “mongoloid.” His dad was a Mexican Indian. My friend looked just like his dad. They listed him as mongoloid because he looked Indian. Superb line, but not the kind you laugh at. You just kind of gasp in awe at such a trenchant indictment of a people who would use the same word to describe the largest group of people on the planet, and mental retardation — Mongoloid — Mongolism. In the white, racist world of the twenties, apparently, the two were indistinguishable. Carrie’s daughter lived to be only seven, dying of an illness. But she did complete the first grade. She was an honor student.
See also: http://karmak.org/archive/2004/06/buckvbell.html. (This site is published by a DNA research group who have also looked at the evidence and found no proof of retardation.)