By Dennis L. Cuddy, Ph.D.
March 21, 2011
In the late 1970s, Dr. Harmon Smith of Duke University said that North Carolina had one of the most thorough involuntary sterilization programs in the nation. This is about the time that the Eugenics Board of North Carolina was disbanded. It was begun in 1933 when the General Assembly enacted a sterilization law (eventually about 38 states had such laws). Under this law, sterilizations were performed supposedly “for the public good.” Most, but not all, of those sterilized were of an I.Q. under 70. In Moya Woodside’s Sterilization in North Carolina (1950), it states: “The duty to institute sterilization proceedings is mandatory on ‘the responsible head of any State penal or charitable institution,’ (In practice, this means the correctional schools, county homes, and mental institutions.) or on the county superintendent of public welfare…. The law appears to have a compulsory character, since it is made the duty of institution or welfare superintendents to bring forward suitable cases for sterilization; and sworn consent is not required from the individual if he or she is a minor or inmate of a state mental institution.” Under the law, the Eugenics Board had jurisdiction in cases of “feeble-mindedness.”
Part of the eugenic sterilization movement was the Human Betterment League of North Carolina founded in 1945. Director and charter member of the League was Alice Shelton Gray, who had worked with the infamous Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. Alice Gray had a significant role in rearing Gordon Gray, son of Alice’s cousin Bowman Gray, founder of the Bowman Gray Medical School in Winston-Salem. In 1940-41, C. Nash Herndon was a Carnegie Fellow there, and later worked with Alice Gray in the eugenic sterilization effort before succeeding her for quite a few years as Director of the Human Betterment League beginning in 1948. He was President of the American Eugenics Society from 1952-1955.
This was during the same period that Gordon Gray was President of the Greater University of North Carolina (1950-1955) after being Secretary of the Army in 1949. While head of UNC, Gordon Gray (whose college degree was in psychology) was appointed by President Truman to be Director of the Psychological Strategy Board in Washington, D.C., in 1951. Gordon Gray was later made President Eisenhower’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs. He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Democrat, though one of his sons, Boyden Gray, became a Republican in 1977 (after serving as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren) and was counsel and Deputy Chief-of-Staff for Vice President George H.W. Bush for 8 years (and has been chief counsel for President Bush at the White House). It is not known to what extent Boyden Gray shared the eugenic philosophy of Alice Gray, or to what extent he disagreed with it, but it is interesting to note the high level of government contacts the Gray family had over the years with both Democrats and Republicans.