North Carolina begins compensating victims of eugenics program

Map of North Carolina
Compensation for Forced Sterilization Victims

North Carolina has become the first state to provide compensation to victims of its since-discontinued eugenics program.

North Carolina once operated the nation’s most extensive eugenics program, involuntarily sterilizing an estimated 7,600 people between 1929 and 1974, when it became the last state in the nation to end its program. The state’s program was aimed at people deemed “feebleminded,” which normally referred to people with disabilities, and minorities.

In July 2013, the state legislature allocated $10 million for compensation for victims of the program. The first checks, sent out to 220 victims for $20,000 each, were mailed out October 27.

“Today is a day of reconciliation and healing. … While no amount of money could undo the wrong that was done to these victims, I hope these payments bring some solace in their acknowledgment that the actions of the Eugenics Board were wrong,” Gov. Pat McCrory said in news release. “This is a new day for us all and brings us nearer to closing one of North Carolina’s darkest chapters.”

The process has not been without controversy. Thus far, the newly created state Office for Justice of Sterilization Victims has received 786 claims, according to the News & Observer. But the North Carolina Industrial Commission, the agency in charge of reviewing the claims, approved just 220 of them.

Under the legislation, only people sterilized under the guidance of the state’s Eugenics Board are eligible. Therefore, many of the people who filed claims, despite being involuntarily sterilized, will not likely be compensated because the procedure was unauthorized or under local control.

“Everything is there, but because you can’t find a piece of paper saying it got approved by the North Carolina board, you’re not gonna be compensated,” Adams, the niece of sterilization victim Debra Blackmon told NPR. “I think it’s sad. I really think it’s sad. It’s like, you’ve hurt her once before, but then now I feel like you’re turning around and hurting her once again.”

The legislation allows for those denied claimants to file an appeal. The rest of the claims are expected to be disbursed this summer, when the appeals are complete.