Updated: Sep 17
Thank you so much for joining us for the world premiere of A Wicked Silence by Greensboro Downtown Parks Artist in Residence, Alexandra Joye Warren. Created in collaboration with her dance company, JOYEMOVEMENT, Alexandra has developed this choreographic work as the first iteration of a three-part series exploring the history and consequences of the Eugenics program in North Carolina.
Drawing on historical research and personal narratives of those victimized by forced sterilization, A Wicked Silence utilizes site-specific choreography inspired by moving through and interacting with various park spaces and features to ground the telling of the story of this work. Presented as a 'choreoplay', A Wicked Silence will convey its narrative through a series of scenes in two acts that move locations throughout LeBauer and Center City Parks (see performance map). Employing multiple art forms, including choreographed movement, spoken word, dramaturgy, music and song, immersive audience participation, and visual art/design, this multimodal piece brings together artists from across the community to tell a story as layered as the history on which it is based.
The concept or term eugenics refers to the intentional and selective breeding of humans and animals to rid the population of characteristics deemed unfit by those administering this practice. In the U.S., eugenics was carried out by individuals, nonprofit organizations and state governments that felt that human reproduction should be controlled. From 1919 to 1977, the state of North Carolina enacted a program of forced sterilization of patients of public-funded institutions that were judged to be 'mentally defective or feeble-minded' by authorities, which later evolved into impoverished populations.
The N.C. Eugenics Board program was created by the legislature in 1933 after a 1929 state sterilization law was ruled unconstitutional by the N.C. Supreme Court. The program was a part of the former N.C. Department of Public Welfare and petitions for sterilization were considered by a five-member panel of state officials.
North Carolina stands out in the history of eugenics. While most states after WWII eliminated their forced sterilization programs, North Carolina is one of a handful that ramped up sterilizations into the midcentury. And where other states left the referral process to doctors working in prisons and mental hospitals, only North Carolina gave that power to social workers. In the late 1940s, the Department of Public Welfare began to promote increased sterilizations as one of several solutions to poverty and illegitimacy.
At this time, the typical welfare recipient in North Carolina was a single woman with four or five children. During a time of economic boom in the post-war period, politicians and public officials worried that these unwed mothers and their children would overwhelm the system. Some powerful elites, including heirs to Procter & Gamble, Hanes Hosiery and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, formed a group called the Human Betterment League in 1947. With glossy brochures and publications that saturated the state, the Human Betterment League of N.C. sought to educate the medical community as well as public officials, civic leaders, and members of the general public about North Carolina’s eugenics law, which allowed for the sterilization of the “mentally ill and defective” with the approval of the State Eugenics Board.
In the late 1950s, a dramatic rise of sterilizations occurred amongst women that did not reside in state institutions and African Americans. One girl sterilized by the state board is described in her file as "often away from home" and "constantly talks about boyfriends." She was 12.
Between 1929 and 1974, nearly 7,600 documented males and females were sterilized by choice, force or coercion under the authority of a 1929 sterilization law and the creation of the N.C. Eugenics Board program in 1933. The youngest victims were ten (10) years of age. 85% of victims were female. 40% of victims were minorities including African Americans and Native Americans. All 100 counties in North Carolina participated in the program. During the peak of the state's eugenics program, it is estimated that Guilford County performed 167 sterilizations.
In 1974, the Eugenics Board was quietly disbanded. With the rise in contraception options, eugenics as we knew it fell out of popularity. The Human Betterment League, renamed the Human Genetics League in 1984, folded in 1988. And 37 years after the NC Eugenics Board ended, state officials enacted a plan to try to compensate those victimized by sterilization. Governor Bev Perdue established the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation as a Division of the N.C. Department of Administration in 2010 to provide justice and compensate victims who were forcibly sterilized by the State of North Carolina’s Eugenics Board program. The Foundation functions as a clearinghouse to assist victims of the former N.C. Eugenics Board program and thereby serves as the primary point of contact for victims, potential victims and the general public who are seeking guidance about North Carolina’s former sterilization laws and program.
The exact number of victims alive today is unknown. However, the State Center for Health Statistics estimates that 2,944 victims may be alive as of 2010. It is more realistically estimated by the State Center that 1,500 to 2,000 victims may still be alive.
Image from 'You & Heredity', 1939
Images from "You Wouldn't Expect..." brochure by The Human Betterment League NC, circa 1950
Tonight's performance will move locations throughout. Seating arrangements will fluctuate as we move between each "stage". Limited seating will be available at each location throughout the performance for those in need, and we ask that those who are able please stand during parts of the performance where seating is most limited. The performance run-time is about 1-hour long from start to finish. There will be no intermission, but restrooms are available in each park, and concessions are available for purchase from kiosks in LeBauer Park's Market Square. If at any time you must step away from the performance, please review the map below to see the flow of how we will move between the five (5) "stages".
Tonight's performance is being professionally filmed and photographed, so we ask that you please refrain from recording the show at any time.
Kayla Jacobs - Narrator
Johnny McNeill - Narrator
Angela Williams Trip - Narrator
Samantha McKinney - Girl
Hannah Long - Girl/Woman
Jazmyne Williams - Girl
Alexandra Love Strouse - Girl
Annie Young - Girl/Woman
Milanda McGinnis - Woman
The multi-modal nature of this work would not have been possible without the contributions of key collaborators throughout this project's development:
Alexandra Joye Warren, Artist in Residence and Founding Artistic Director of JOYEMOVEMENT Dance Company
Milanda McGinnis, Assistant Choreographer and JOYEMOVEMENT Company Member
Amanda Miller, Residency Coordinator and Production Manager
Ganisha Baker, Production Assistant
Antoine Williams, Mixed-Media Artist and Design Contributor
Gloria Singleton-Kahn, Art Fabricator
Lavinia Jackson, Poet
Alyssa Noble, Dramaturg
Jaelan Price, Stage Manager & JOYEMOVEMENT Social Media Manager
Katie Jo Fulks, JOYEMOVEMENT Fall 2021 Intern
Ivy Leavitt-Lytle, Volunteer Stage Crew
Elsewhere, Props & Costume Loans and Consultation
Piedmont Blues Preservation Society, Music Consultation
Hannah Long, Promotion Photography and JOYEMOVEMENT Company Member
Jennifer Scheib of Happy Labs Photography, Performance Photography
Paul Byun & Andy Augustyn, Performance Video Production
HUMbl Media Svcs, Audio Production
Cindy Gal - Joe Thompson and Odell Thompson, Oh Yeah - Guitar Slim, Wilson Rag -Elizabeth Cotten, Going Down the Road Feeling Bad - Etta Baker & Cora Phillips, I Want Jesus To Walk With Me - Algia Mae Hinton, Strange Things Are Happening Everyday - Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Going Down This Road - Algia Mae Hinton, Night Dreams - Jerome Collins, Drumline Cadence - LSU Tiger Marching Band, The Dilemma and I Feel Like Bustin’ Loose -Rebirth Brass Band, Go On Blues - Unknown Artist, Tomorrow Might Be My Wedding Day - Algia Mae Hinton
Thank You, Jaki Shelton Green, for advising in the development of this project.
Thank you to Greensboro Downtown Parks staff and volunteers for their labor throughout this residency and its production.
Thank you, supporters. This Greensboro Downtown Parks, Inc. Artist in Residence project and A Wicked Silence production would not have been possible without the generous contributions of our supporting partners:
The performance is FREE to attend, but contributions made in honor of this work will go to directly support the artists who have dedicated themselves to this project since it first came to the parks in January 2021. If interested in supporting this work by making a contribution to the artists, please click HERE and Dedicate the Gift to "A Wicked Silence".
Or try Text-to-Give and dedicate your gift there: