North Carolina ends plan to compensate sterilization victims

The North Carolina Senate rejected a plan June 20 that would have made it the first state nationwide to make repercussions for its long discredited eugenics programs.

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The state raised the hopes of sterilization victims when Governor Bill Perdue announced the creation of a task force in 2011 to look into a compensation program for victims of the state’s sterilization program, the nation’s most extensive. That June, about a dozen victims told the task force their horror stories of how the program deprived them of their right to parenthood.

The task force recommended providing $50,000 in compensation per victim in January. On May 18, the North Carolina House passed the measure by an 86-31 vote, but the Senate never gave the measure consideration as the legislative session wrapped up, according to an Associated Press article.

“They have really devastated victims,” said Charmaine Fuller Cooper, executive director of the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, in an article for the Raleigh News and Observer. “Even though they are 80-, 90-years-old, they remember it vividly. They had to reopen those old wounds. We have had people come forward and relive those memories and have had people tell their families and nothing happens. They’re angry and they have justification in how they feel.”

North Carolina sterilized 7,600 individuals between 1929 and 1976, with the majority of those sterilizations coming after World War II, after most states eliminated their programs in response to revelations regarding the Nazis extensive use of eugenics programs.

The program was the nation’s most open-ended program. While other states programs were aimed at inmates or individuals who were already institutionalized, the state eugenics program often recommended sterilization for individuals it classified as “feebleminded,” meaning that they were deemed improper for parenthood, which normally referred to people with mental disabilities, or were poor and uneducated.

The N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation estimated that up to 1,800 victims were still living.

A PBS video on the North Carolina program can be seen here.