Lombardo Named Regents’ Professor

 

A 1980 newspaper article Lombardo read over breakfast when he was a graduate student at the University of Virginia led to the research for which he is best known. The article described two sisters that the Commonwealth of Virginia involuntarily sterilized in the 1920s. One of them was Carrie Buck, the subject of the infamous U.S. Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell. In upholding the Virginia statute authorizing the sterilization, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declared, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Since coming across that article, Lombardo has conducted research on the people involved in the case and, more broadly, the American eugenics movement, which has fundamentally altered our understanding of Buck v. Bell. His research, including interviews with Carrie Buck and review of her and her daughter’s report cards, shows that neither of them demonstrated any mental deficiency. This refutation of the fundamental premise on which the case and the numerous state sterilization laws are based is reflected in the title of his acclaimed book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell (2008). Lombardo’s academic articles, presentations, and press commentaries highlight the enduring legacy of Buck v. Bell and the American eugenics movement and the need to remember the lessons of the past to understand our present.

These academic contributions would be enough to confirm Santa Clara University School of Law Professor Michelle Oberman’s assessment that Lombardo “embodies the perfect balance of passion and dispassion needed to produce enduring and meaningful contributions to our collective understanding of the law and of what we aspire to call civilization.” But Lombardo’s work has not stopped there.

Lombardo has focused public attention on the impact of the American eugenics movement on the lives of individuals in a variety of ways. Lombardo personally paid for a roadside historical marker in Charlottesville, Virginia, Carrie Buck’s hometown, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Buck v. Bell.  The marker concisely describes the number of states with eugenic sterilization laws like Virginia’s, what happened to Carrie Buck, the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Virginia’s sterilization law, the 8,000 Virginians sterilized under the law, and the later evidence than Buck and others had no “hereditary defects” the laws were intended to address. Lombardo has also worked tirelessly to educate state legislators and other government officials about their states’ sterilization laws and how they were used. As a result, several states have apologized for their involuntary sterilizations policies, and a few states have offered restitution to victims.

Although his work takes him around the country and the world conducting and presenting his research, Lombardo is well known for his generosity as a colleague and a teacher. The renowned Harvard Professor, Stephen Jay Gould, who never met Lombardo but benefited from Lombardo’s willingness to answer questions and share original research materials, perhaps put it best when he acknowledged the debt he owed to Lombardo in his 1984 article, “Carrie Buck’s Daughter”: “[Lombardo] did all this work for kindness, collegiality, and love of the game of knowledge, not for the expected reward or even requested acknowledgment.”

Lombardo’s colleagues at Georgia State and beyond, his students, the press, and the public benefit from the intellectual curiosity, commitment to development of understanding, and desire to engage with others Gould identified in him. And these are the very characteristics that have made him such an exceptional scholar and earned him the University System of Georgia’s recognition as a Regents’ Professor.