About

Definition:

  • Mississippi Appendectomy – A phrase made popular by Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer referring to involuntary sterilization procedures. Beginning during the heyday of the American eugenics movement (1920s and 1930s), poor black women were made subject to hysterectomies or tubal ligations against their will and without their knowledge. The practice was considered particularly frequent in the Deep South, although coercive sterilization practices took place in many areas of the country and also affected other women of color, women with physical disabilities whom physicians judged to be “unfit to reproduce,” and poor white women as well.
  • “She went into the doctor for a cold and came out with a Mississippi appendectomy.”

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About this site:

MISSISSIPPI APPENDECTOMY is an evolving online archive of information about forced sterilizations of women of color that is being compiled by Serena Sebring. If you have information, comments, or questions about this work or the material that appears here, please feel free to contact me at

serena [dot] sebring [at] gmail [dot] com

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About my work:

I am a graduate student in sociology, and this site features material I am collecting for academic research purposes. I hope that as facts collect here, this archive will also be useful to others — as far as I know it is the only one of its kind. Many people have researched sterilization programs and there is lots of good work out there that I am still only beginning to discover, however, to my knowledge there is not a site online that deals with coercive sterilization against women of color collectively – though there are good resources for sterilization abuses experienced by particular groups of women of color (i.e., sterilization of black women, sterilization of native american women, etc.). I hope to bring as many resources as possible into one place, to give a broader historical perspective, and to learn how women of color have been affected by such programs.

Politically, I think it is useful for women of color interested in reproductive justice to have access to information about our particular herstories, shared experiences, and common struggles. As a woman of color who is interested in reproductive justice, I hope that this knowledge will make a contribution to building coalitions and strengthening movements by telling the truth and raising awareness about how far we have come and how far we have to go.

Personally, as a black woman and mother of three children, this work is also a family history. It is a story of how I came to be where and who I am. I was born in 1977. Unwed, at 19 years old, I gave birth to my first daughter. At my first office visit following her birth, my doctor strongly encouraged me to think about long-term birth control — perhaps sensible enough advice, even if it was offered in a tone ringing with an unmistakable disapproval and with look of disdain and condescension that it has taken me many years to shake.

I can only imagine what the voices of the doctors of the women whose stories will fill this archive must have sounded like, or how they might have felt as social workers coldly ordered their bellies cut open and reproductive freedom cut short. I can only imagine, and this is a privilege. Had I been born earlier, I might have seen my children sold for someone else’s profit or whim, I might have had little or no access to reproductive technologies that allowed me the freedom to make decisions about how many children to have or when, I might have been deemed “irresponsible” “negligent” “feebleminded” or “promiscuous” after having a child out of wedlock at 19 — as many of my foremothers were — and been tricked, forced, or pressured into the violence of a surgery meant to erase future problems of my kind. I do know that the disapproval and disdain that stung me in that doctor’s office were only the remnants of generations of violence and theft committed against black and brown mothers, only the legacy of their children deemed unworthy of birth, only the trace of an unfree lineage.

But my freedom – to choose – to choose among many possible tomorrows for myself and for my family, that is a gift. It is a gift passed on to me by women of color who endured, who survived, and those who did not; passed down to me by women who spoke, who organized, who marched, who wrote, who believed, who hoped, who visioned a future they would never see; black women and brown women, ‘third-world’ women who spoke unspeakable truths, who testified, who worked, who fought, who loved, who built, and who birthed this world which has offered me more freedom than they ever could have known. I am thankful. This work is for them.

And yet I know that my freedom remains incomplete, that reproductive justice is still a goal and not yet my destination. I know too that I share this legacy of struggle with Sisters who have not had the same freedoms I have and Sisters who continue to face more limited options and fewer possible tomorrows than my own. This work is for them. None of us is free until we all are. So this work is for me and my Sisters – for my daughters and theirs – for our mothers and grandmothers. This work is dedicated with love to those who came before and to those who will come after, and to another world that waits to celebrate their birth.

Serena Sebring
November 25, 2007


 
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