Pure America (pre-order coming soon)
By Elizabeth Catte
Spring 2020 - not yet available for pre-order
In 2018, author Elizabeth Catte found herself living less than a mile from Virginia’s notorious eugenics institution, Western State Hospital. The site of the former facility was under development, transitioning from derelict medical complex to high-end apartments. The 2,000 indigent burial sites on the property were in limbo. An obscure patch of land deemed off-limits hid behind the site’s new façade, an arrangement that mirrored the state’s relationship to its shameful history.
Beginning in 1924, Virginia became both a national and international model for a burgeoning white racial purity industry, eventually providing a blueprint for Nazi Germany. Between 1924 and 1978, the state authorized the involuntary sterilization of more than 8,000 men, women, and children, citing criminal behavior, mental or physical defects, or generational impoverishment. Cities, towns, and private developers enriched themselves by confiscating property of those institutionalized. Academics, physicians, and lawmakers earned distinctions appealing to white Virginia’s fervor for cleansing society of its undesirables.
Pure America unravels the legacy of Virginia’s eugenics movement through restless stories, like Western State’s, that haunt the present. From a national park created through racial cleansing to the rapid gentrification instigated by a university that served as the epicenter of race science, these scars are often hidden in plain sight. Pure America is a mediation on power and the production of history against the backdrop of lives that deserve to be remembered.
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Distributed by Publishers Group West
Elizabeth Catte is a writer and historian from East Tennessee. She holds a PhD in public history from Middle Tennessee State University and is the co-owner of Passel, a historical consulting and development company.