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Race Science Remembered: Legacies of Eugenic Rhetoric during Massive Resistance within the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond News Leader, Charlottesville Daily Progress, and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Presenters Name: 
Brendan Nigro
Primary Research Mentor: 
Sarah Milov
Secondary Research Mentor: 
David Singerman
1:00 - 1:15
Time of Presentation: 
2019 - 1:00pm to 1:15pm
Board Room
Presentation Type: 
Presentations Academic Category: 
Grant Program Recipient: 
Harrison Undergraduate Research Grant

The false science of eugenics swept across America in the early 20th century. “Eugenics,” broadly defined, is the creating of a “better race” through intentional breeding of desired traits alongside the sterilization or containment of undesired traits, often defined by race, class, and ability. Most famously, the Nazis apply eugenic ideas in their ‘racial hygiene’ programs and thereafter eugenics is broadly disavowed. As such, historians typically periodize American eugenics as a phenomenon ending at the Nuremburg trials. However, legacies of eugenic rhetoric transcend into the era of Civil Rights as newspaper editors of various ideological and geographical backgrounds support the “Massive Resistance” to school desegregation in Virginia by applying eugenic precepts. Editorial sections hold tremendous weight in mid-20th-century Virginia as key shapers of public opinion. This study focuses on the editorial productions of four main Virginia newspapers and their use and rejection of eugenically-inspired ideas to justify segregation in schools. The papers each take different editorial approaches (one even opposing Massive Resistance outright), but in each case, the fear-based, segregationist argument of ‘social intimacy’ (a proxy for sex and intermarriage of children of different races) remains unquestioned. Additionally, familiar eugenic tropes surrounding economic efficiency and state control recur. This finding expands the sub-literature on eugenics’ legacies which is largely focused on racial disparities in health care, to include segregationist ideology. This study challenges the typical periodization of eugenics and demonstrates the resonance of eugenic ideas amongst Virginia’s elite even after the scientific basic for such ideas is renounced.