Lawmakers in the state of North Carolina made a ground breaking move on Wednesday when they approved a budget that included $10 million to compensate victims of their forced sterilization program.
Eugenics, a social movement which encouraged selective breeding and sterilization of the population became very popular in the U.S. in the 1920’s. The purpose was to eliminate societal ills and improve the gene pool by sterilizing people with “inherited traits” of poverty, promiscuity and alcoholism.
Although N.C. was only one of 32 states that practiced eugenics, its program was one of the most aggressive of all the states. North Carolina was the only state that allowed social workers to make the determination as to who would be sterilized. Their Eugenics Board rarely rejected proposals brought to them by local welfare officials.
The North Carolina Eugenics Board was dissolved in 1977 and the law permitting involuntary sterilization was repealed in 2003.
Although state officials apologized to the victims, they did not decide until Wednesday on an official amount to be allotted to the victims of their eugenics program, $10 million. The state has identified 177 living victims. The amount of compensation each receives will depend on the number of verified claims, according to the state Department of Administration.
“No amount that we can afford to pay is enough,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam, a Republican. “But this is sufficient for the living victims to know that the state of North Carolina sincerely regrets the injustice that we’ve done to them.”
Between 1929 and 1974 approximately 7,600 people were sterilized involuntarily in North Carolina. Of the victims sterilized, 85 percent of the victims were female and 40 percent were non-white according to reports.
Elaine Riddick was a victim of North Carolina’s sterilization program. She was 13-years-old when she was raped and became pregnant. The state decided that she was a candidate for their program and after the birth of her child she was sterilized.
“I was rape by a perpetrator, who was never charged, and then I was raped by the state of North Carolina. They took something from me both times,” she said. The state of North Carolina, they took something so dearly from me, something that was God given.”
Riddick was never told what happened to her, it was not until she was 19-years-old, married and had problems conceiving that she learned she could not have children. A doctor informed her that she had been sterilized.
“Butchered. The doctor used that word. I didn’t understand what she meant when she said I had been butchered.” Riddick said.
Riddick’s fate fell into the hands of a social worker who declared her “mentally retarded” and “promiscuous.” Yet, she attended college and raised the son she had before they butchered her.
When Riddick was informed of the decision of the lawmakers in North Carolina, she was surprised.
“I tip my hat to North Carolina, finally they came to their senses and decided to do what’s right,” she said.
While many states have come forward and apologized, North Carolina is the first to come forward and offer some form of compensation. It is estimated that between 1909 and 1960 approximately 60,000 people in the U.S. were sterilized because of the eugenics movement. California had the highest number of sterilizations, 20,000, but North Carolina’s movement was the most aggressive of the 32 states that participated.
By: Veverly Edwards