The deadline for compensation for victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program has passed. For years, it was the practice of members of North Carolina’s health care system to sterilize poor and minority men and women for what was understood to be the public good. The program was in practice for 43 years, between 1929 and 1974. North Carolina has set up a $10 million fund to pay victims of this program. As of the June 30 deadline, almost 700 people had applied for compensation. It is believed that there are still 1,500 currently living victims of this program. The NAACP is hoping that the state will expand the deadline.
Eugenics began in North Carolina in 1919. At first, the program was only for women in prisons and institutions. It focused on the mentally impaired. In 1929, the program was extended to cover what was termed the “public good”, and the attention turned to black men and women and the poor. This change was brought forth due to a Supreme Court ruling that of Buck v Bell. This case argued that the compulsory sterilization of people was a violation of due process. The Court disagreed. In 1933, however, the North Carolina Supreme Court found that the 1929 ruling was in fact un-constitutional, violating the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Changes to the law included allowing people who were to be subjected to sterilization the opportunity to appeal that decision, though it rarely ever was.
As the program moved into post World War II America, the number of women who were subject to sterilization began to grow, with almost 3,000 people being sterilized between 1950 and 1960. No part of North Carolina was unaffected by this program. All North Carolina counties participated, though some more than others. The lowest number of sterilizations reported by a county was four, while the largest number was 485. In all, close to 7,500 men and women were sterilized by the state. This does not include the unknown number of sterilizations that occurred on a local level.
As North Carolina moved into the 1970’s, the sterilizations began to stop. Human rights groups and activists began protesting to end the practice. In 1976, the North Carolina Supreme Court heard a case in which it clung to its position that the sterilization of people was a legitimate use of its police powers. North Carolina’s Supreme Court said that it had the right to prevent the creation of children who would be a burden on the state. North Carolina finally ended state sponsored sterilization of the poor and minorities in 1977.
While North Carolina has put in a $10 million dollar fund for victim payouts, many advocates do not feel that this amount is enough. With the number of victims that have come forward, the amount received by each will be close to $14,000. With estimates saying that only around half of the people affected by the forced sterilization had come forward, that amount could have been even lower. Advocates believe that the amount given to the victims should be more than they are getting. They say that cases like this normally end in structured settlements for victims.
The deadline for receiving compensation from the state of North Carolina for state sponsored sterilization has passed. Only about half of the still living victims got their applications in under the deadline. Advocates hope that the state will extend the deadline.
By Bryan Levy