Between the start of the 20th century and World War II, two dozen American states passed laws authorizing the forced sterilization of "the feeble minded" and others labeled as genetically flawed.
In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 8-1 to uphold Virginia's eugenics law, with the majority opinion written by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. And, according to Kevles, by 1930, California had sterilized some 6,000 people.
Kevles said the racial concerns of the American eugenics movement focused less on fears about blacks than on the waves of European immigration.
"Immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were not thought to be white," he said. He said many Anglo-Protestant Americans worried that they'd be outnumbered and overwhelmed by those they considered substandard humans.
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