Justice for Eugenics Victims in North Carolina

Nora Sullivan, M.P.A  

The state of North Carolina has now identified more than 100 victims of their massive state-sponsored eugenics program which lasted from 1929 to 1974 according to reports out recently.  In an effort to compensate for the wrongs of the past, Demoicratic Gov. Bev Perdue established the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation.  The foundation seeks to provide justice and compensation for the still living of the estimated 7,600 North Carolinians who were forcibly sterilized by direction of the North Carolina Eugenics Board.


In January, the state’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force recommended a lump sum of $50,000 to be paid out to victims along with mental health services.  The task force also suggested the creation and expansion of permanent and traveling eugenics exhibits, and the continuation of the Sterilization Victims Foundation.   Gov. Perdue has announced that she is including the compensation in her budget plan.



This effort marks the first time any state has made an effort to compensate victims of the eugenics programs which sought to “weed out” those deemed feeble minded or otherwise undesirable.  Many of the victims were poor, undereducated, disabled, or minorities whom the state simply declared unfit to be parents.



“North Carolina operated the most aggressive eugenics program in the nation, sterilizing the majority of its program victims after World War II and the Holocaust,” Foundation executive director Charmaine Fuller Cooper told the Charlotte Post.  “Anyone could have been subjected to a sterilization order and the chances for sterilization were great for those in poverty.



“Victims have courageously stepped forward to tell their stories and their courage has inspired more people to contact the foundation.”



Thirty-two states enacted eugenic programs during the early to mid-20th century out of a distorted desire to purify the human race.  California’s was, by far, the most efficient.  The state forcibly sterilized 20,000 Californians between 1909 and 1963.



Eugenics programs would not have been possible had it not been for the powerful people who promoted and lobbied for them.  One of the proponents of the eugenics movement—which  led to the sad situation in which these victims eventually found themselves—was Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.  In the April 1932 issue of Birth Control Review, Sanger called for “a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring…



Sanger’s connection to the North Carolina sterilization campaign have been elaborated elsewhere, with a particularly concise account of her American Birth Control League’s collaboration with the projects of Clarence Campbell, founder of the North Carolina-based Pathfinder Fund.  If a permanent, traveling exhibit on the history of the state’s eugenic misadventure is established, it will be interesting – and telling – to see whether it records this sometimes hidden history fully and accurately.



North Carolina is to be commended for reaching out to the victims of these heinous acts and attempting to make amends.  The eugenics programs represent dark periods in history, more recent than some care to admit, but they should be remembered.  The victims of these programs have suffered immensely at the hands of the state.  They deserve recognition now and the knowledge that the state will make every effort to honor the dignity of every human being.


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