A forcible sterilization program with overtures of eugenics resonates like something from Nazi Germany, but it happened right here in America and it was more than just an isolated occurrence.
At least thirty states had such horrendous programs that sterilized people, mostly Black women, against their will. But few were as outlandish as the one in North Carolina where as many as 2,000 people were sterilized between 1929 and 1974, according to an AP story.
While many states have apologized for such barbarity, North Carolina is the only one considering compensating the victims. A recent task force, formed in 2010 by Governor Beverly Perdue, has recommended that each of the 2,000 people victimized be awarded $50,000.
Many of the victims feel that amount is inadequate and places a small value on their lives and their potential children. The task force’s report briefly addressed this issue, noting that compensation “is not meant to value life loss or the choices taken away from nearly 7,600 men and women but to serve as a strong and collective acknowledgment of an abusive government program that should never be duplicated by this state or any other government ever again.”
The task force reported that 1,500 to 2,000 of the victims still are alive, though the state has verified only 72 so far.
“Those who were sterilized,” wrote Lisa Wang, a Harvard law student, “often did not know the purpose of the surgeries until after the fact. Victims were chosen using IQ tests and social worker recommendations based on factors such as “promiscuity” and “feeble-mindedness” and reports on mental and physical health. The state’s Eugenics Board made the final decision on the operation.“
Last November, Elaine Riddick told her story to two reporters and what happened to her is typical of how the sterilization program worked in North Carolina. She was thirteen, she began, when was raped and impregnated in 1967. The state ordered that after she had her baby that her fallopian tubes should be tied.
“I have to carry these scars with,” she told the reporters. “I have to live with this for the rest of my life.” She had no idea what was going on, she said. “Got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that’s all I remember….When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach.”
It was only years later when she was attempting to have children that a doctor informed her that she had been sterilized.
Riddick said she felt she had been raped twice: “Once by the rapist and one by the state of North Carolina.”
On Wednesday in Charlotte, two lawmakers, Republican Speaker of the State House of Representatives Thom Tillis and Earline Parmon, a Democrat from Winston-Salem, will hold a town hall meeting to discuss how the matter should be handled and what compensation should be given to the victims.