Wallace Kuralt’s era of sterilization
Mecklenburg’s impoverished had few, if any, rights in the ’50s and ’60s as he oversaw one of the most aggressive efforts to sterilize certain populations
Ann Doss Helms and Tommy Tomlinson - Sep. 26, 2011
Compassionate. Visionary. A champion of women and the poor.
That’s the reputation that Wallace Kuralt built as Mecklenburg County’s welfare director from 1945 to 1972. Today, the building where Charlotte’s poor come for help bears his name - a name made even more prominent when his newscaster son, Charles Kuralt, rose to fame.
But as architect of Mecklenburg’s program of eugenic sterilization - state-ordered surgery to stop the poor and disabled from bearing children - Kuralt helped write one of the most shameful chapters of North Carolina history.
The Charlotte Observer has obtained records sealed by the state that tell the stories of 403 Mecklenburg residents ordered sterilized by the N.C. Eugenics Board at the behest of Kuralt’s welfare department.
It’s a number that dwarfs the total from any other county, in a state that ran one of the nation’s most active efforts to sterilize the mentally ill, mentally retarded and epileptic.
The records crunch people’s lives into a few terse paragraphs.