Liberation Eugenics: African Americans and the Science of Black Freedom Struggles, 1890-1970

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Johns Hopkins University
This dissertation analyzes black eugenics, which I define as a hereditarian approach to racial uplift that emphasized social reform, reproductive control, and public health as strategies of biological racial improvement. It emerged from a longer tradition of black political organizing for racial equality and the beginnings of black engagement with medicine and science, especially as greater educational opportunities became available in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I argue that black eugenics is a set of iterations of black engagement with racial science and hereditarian thought across the twentieth century. It centers African American voices and experiences to illustrate that African Americans were not only the objects and victims of eugenics and racial science, they actively engaged discourses of racial science to advocate for improving the race socially and biologically. Scholar-activists like W.E.B. Du Bois, Kelly Miller, and W. Montague Cobb were part of a larger cohort of African American physicians, biologists, social scientists, and others across different social strata that mobilized a form of eugenics without racism to argue for racial equality. To capture the breadth of these iterations, this dissertation will draw on a variety of sources. These sources will include medical journals, scientific articles, black newspapers, and the records of African American organizations and institutions like the Tuskegee Institute and Howard University. They show the ways in which black eugenics operated in different spaces and shaped knowledge production in the life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Black eugenics makes visible the ways in which African Americans developed, mobilized, and reinterpreted knowledge about race, heredity, and health to advocate for black liberation.
Eugenics, African American, Medicine, Public Health, Genetics, Scientific Racism