A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist tells the amazing story of how a group of imprisoned boys won their freedom, found justice, and survived one of the darkest and least-known episodes of American history.
In the early twentieth century, United States health officials used IQ tests to single out "feebleminded" children and force them into institutions where they were denied education, sterilized, drugged, and abused. Under programs that ran into the 1970s, more than 250,000 children were separated from their families, although many of them were merely unwanted orphans, truants, or delinquents.
The State Boys Rebellion conveys the shocking truth about America's eugenic era through the experiences of a group of boys held at the Fernald State School in Massachusetts starting in the late 1940s. In the tradition of Erin Brockovich, it recounts the boys' dramatic struggle to demand their rights and secure their freedom. It also covers their horrifying discovery many years later that they had been fed radioactive oatmeal in Cold War experiments -- and the subsequent legal battle that ultimately won them a multimillion-dollar settlement.
Meticulously researched through school archives, previously sealed papers, and interviews with the surviving State Boys, this deft exposé is a powerful reminder of the terrifying consequences of unchecked power as well as an inspiring testament to the strength of the human spirit.
The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment shockingly demonstrated that the world's most powerful narcotic might well be unlimited power over the powerless. Emancipation movements the world over have also taught us that even the most abjectly powerless will, given enough time, fight for their freedom and dignity. These two precepts are at the heart of Pulitzer Prize winning journalist D'Antonio's startling account of the wholesale incarceration of the mentally retarded during the middle decades of the last century. The bastard child of progressivism and eugenics, the institutionalization by the 1930s of needy children with below-average IQs was a well-established part of the legal system. The effect of this was to consign many children to overcrowded and underfunded medical prisons where physical, emotional and sexual abuse was rampant and quite literally without end. D'Antonio wisely chooses one institution, the Walter E. Fernald School for the Feebleminded, in Massachusetts, where a group of boys, utterly (and correctly) convinced of their lack of abnormal status, after nearly two decades of confinement, in 1957 instigated a violent uprising in Ward 22, the prisonlike facility where misbehaving inmates were periodically sent. Thanks to their indomitable conviction that their institutionalization was unjust and the growing awareness on the part of certain sympathetic outsiders over several decades, these young men were finally able to help put an end to this ghastly system. D'Antonio (Atomic Harvest, etc.) deftly combines detailed archival research and extensive personal interviews to paint a richly nuanced picture of a horrifying and shamefully underexposed part of our country's recent history.