Fifty Years of Night

The Whitesburg Conference

In 1974, a small group of men met in Whitesburg to propose intelligence testing for schoolchildren and their parents in Clay, Elliott and Leslie counties — and voluntary sterilization for families whose IQs were found to be too low.

The participants included:

  • Harry Monroe Caudill, the host, a local lawyer and author of the 1963 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands. Caudill committed suicide in 1990.
  • William Bradford Shockley Jr., a Nobel-winning physicist at Stanford University who became a controversial figure in the 1970s because of his arguments for eugenics and sterilization. Shockley said intelligence is inherited and influenced by race — blacks tend to be less intelligent than whites — and stupid people outbreed smart people, imperiling society. Shockley died in 1989.
  • Robert Klark Graham, a businessman who made millions by inventing shatterproof plastic eyeglass lenses. He backed Shockley and thought that genes are weakened by “imbeciles” breeding. In 1980, Graham opened The Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank that promised that all its donors were geniuses. Shockley is the only known donor. Roughly 200 children were born from the bank. Graham died in 1997.
  • Robert Travis Osborne, a psychologist at the University of Georgia who studied racial and physical characteristics and intelligence. He was popular among white supremacists. During the 1960s, Osborne testified in court against racial integration of schools, saying that genetics made black children intellectually inferior to white children. Osborne, 99, lives in Athens, Ga. He declined an interview request from the Lexington Herald-Leader.
  • Reginald Calvert Orem, an educator and aide to Shockley. Orem, 81, lives in College Park, Md.
  • Dr. John Joseph McCaughan Jr., chief of surgery at the Memphis Veterans Medical Center and a friend of Shockley. McCaughan died in 2000.
  • J.W. Kirkpatrick, a Memphis lawyer and friend of Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Kirkpatrick committed suicide in 1981 after he was publicly identified as a financial backer of the Klan’s failed plot to overthrow the government of Dominica, an island in the Caribbean, and establish an Aryan regime in its place.
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