Human frailty is a tangible thing. We make mistakes, each and every one of us in ways small and large.

We are also capable of great things, things that improve the lives around us in times light and dark.

But, when frailty and darkness collide, we get immoral social movements like eugenics. Throw in greed, and we get slavery and subjugation. Throw in self-interest and too many are too willing to turn a blind eye to these and other cruelties, all justified for the common good.

Human history is rife with examples, and our own American history has its share.

What passes for “common good” does not always equal individual good, and some of the worst examples confusing these two concepts in this country center on race and disability. Past and present tense.

We founded this country on subjugation, pushing out native peoples to make way for our own selves to live here. Right from the start, we battled, oppressed, and intentionally infected men, women and children so we could colonize this country.


No present day American could possibly carry any sense of pride over the deadly and degrading relocation of members of the Cherokee, Creek, Seminole and Choctaw nations from their native lands to a U.S.-appointed Indian Territory in Oklahoma in the 1830s. And, yet, at the time it was deemed necessary for the growth of this country.

In Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, where the Wabanaki have lived for more than 11,000 years, the largest populations now live on unceded land — land that they refused to sign away to the Brits or Canada.

Across this great nation, the total area of Native American reservation lands — which includes Pleasant Point and Indian Township — is 56.2 million acres, or about 2.3% of all land. A people who once lived and roamed freely across this nation now live — for purposes of federal recognition — on land equal to a sliver about the size of Idaho.

The process to corral and confine Native Americans was much supported by white settlers, all in the name of progress, and in that name an entire culture of proud, productive and deserving people was wrongly oppressed.

It was cruelty disguised as progress.

And, then there’s greed.


No where will we find more greed in this country than in the slavery of hundreds of thousands of African Americans who were exploited purely for the financial gain of their white “masters.”

They were people without homes and without rights, torn from their families who later had their own children torn from them, and who — if one could — were able to establish their freedom, were denied this most basic right.

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court made it the law of the land that people of African descent who had been kidnapped from their own lands and “imported” to the United States where they were forced into slavery were not protected by this country’s Constitution. The Dred Scott decision upheld slavery and ruled that Scott — because he was someone’s property — was not a citizen and could not sue for his freedom in federal court, even though he had been living in free states.

This decision sealing the fate of thousands of human beings was despicable, but because it had been decided by the highest court in the land it was accepted and life went on. Life was far better for whites than for slaves, to be sure, but acceptance was nearly blind.

And then this country very quickly marched toward civil war.

It wasn’t until the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were adopted — abolishing slavery in 1865 and establishing that everyone born in the United States is a citizen of this country in 1868, respectively — that the notion of imported human beings were mere property ended.



The suppression of minorities in this country, Blacks in particular, is a stain on a place that claims to welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free to its shores.

While that may be an ideal inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, it’s an ideal of American greatness that hasn’t always translated into practice.

This country’s cruel record of racism has taken many forms over the years, including restricting housing, discriminatory lending practices, access to education, equal pay, ability to vote, access to health care, inequity in the criminal justice system, and so much more. These unjustified distinctions based on race are real hurdles intended to limit people and hinder their lives.

The same can be said about distinctions based on gender and disability, and no matter how clear the laws are in this country about discriminatory practices based on race, religion, national origin, age, gender, familial status, veteran status and disability, discrimination exists and will continue to exist until each one of us takes responsibility for confronting and abolishing it.

When that doesn’t happen, we get the eugenics movement – the scientific racism that pushed involuntary sterilization, segregated and socially isolated minorities and the disabled, and otherwise worked to rid society of the “unfit.”


Who is unfit? And who is fit enough to determine that?

No one. And nobody.

And, yet, this movement — first coined by Francis Galton in 1883 — gained popularity through the early part of the 20th century, a time of otherwise great modern advances in science, in business and in education.

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, by the 1920s, “prominent American eugenicists expounded on their concerns of ‘race suicide,’ or the increasingly differential birthrates between immigrants and non-Nordic races compared to native-born Nordic whites.” These prominent Americans used their concerns, and their pulpits, to promote anti-immigration and mass sterilization, and to isolate and confine the disabled.

From on high, these Americans declared “certain individuals unfit, ‘feebleminded’ or anti-social, which resulted in the involuntary sterilization of at least 60,000 people through 30 states’ laws by the 1970s.”

The 1970s.


The Evening Journal’s avid boosterism of eugenics was a horrible thing, and it disgusts me to be connected in any way with the editors who pushed this vile agenda. It is nothing but a racist concept of superiority, and one that has caused untold suffering here and around the world.

So, why examine this ugliness?

We learn from our history — the good, the bad and the ugly — and are supposed to make better decisions when we know our history and can avoid mistakes of the past.

Or, so we believe.

But this nation continues to discriminate against Native Americans, many of whom struggle in poverty for the most basic needs.

Slavery — which should never have taken root here and, once it did, lasted entirely too long — became the foundation for a culture of discrimination in this country that refuses to wilt away.


And, while forced sterilization may be a thing of the past, discrimination against the disabled continues, as it does for too many others based on age, religion, gender and national origin.

Discrimination has been institutionalized, but only because people let it happen.

The power of the people — and of the press — is to push back and make it right for all people, regardless of skin color, where they were born, their abilities, their sexual orientation or their faith. We all deserve respect for our uniqueness, we all deserve to be safe and deserve to pursue our dreams without fear of discrimination.

Every one.

Judith Meyer is executive editor of the Sun Journal.

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