For months it has seemed that the recompense due to the victims of the horrific North Carolina Eugenics program was assured. The measure to award a monetary compensation to these people whose human dignity has been so grossly violated seemed only just and entertained enthusiastic support from North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue, the State House of Representative, and a large number of average North Carolingians. However, despite the outpouring of support for this measure, the compensation packages were not included in the Senate’s budget.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, said, “I think there’s a very strong message from the Senate they’re not prepared to take it up this year.” Speaker Tillis was a strong supporter of the effort and called inability to get funding “a personal failure” adding, “It’s something that I’ll continue to work on.”
The state senate’s reluctance to provide for these citizens is certainly a curious one. There was a time when the state of North Carolina devoted an enormous amount of tax dollars toward these same citizens. They spent an untold fortune on these North Carolinians when they were young and full of promise. They created an entire bureaucracy devoted to them. The North Carolina Eugenics Board directed the forced or coerced sterilizations of an estimated 7,600 people between the years 1926 and 1974. North Carolina once saw that they were serving humanity and the purity of the race by investing in cutting these young people off in their prime and preventing them from having children. Now that these victims must face old age without the comfort of children and grandchildren about them but instead only a lifetime of pain, North Carolina has decided not to interfere.
Eugenics has had a real and lasting presence in American history. At least half the states in the Union have had programs similar to North Carolina whereby certain people who have been deemed to be unfit to procreate by the government where either forced or coerced into being sterilized for the sake of the betterment of race. However, it was most often the poor, the undereducated, the physically or mentally disabled, and minorities who were targeted as victims of these programs. Among the worst was California, were 20,000 Californians were forcibly sterilized between 1906 and 1963.
Though these sterilization programs have ceased, they continue to cast long shadows for those most closely affected by them. Elaine Riddick, 58, was 14 was she was forcibly sterilized without her knowledge in 1968 after she was raped. Her grandmother, who was illiterate, signed the consent forms with an X. She had been deemed “promiscuous” and “feeble-minded” by the state and North Carolina authorized and paid for the procedure.
The North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, which was established by Governor Perdue in 2010 to provide justice and assist victims of forced sterilization, has suspended its work identifying and verifying victims. So far 147 living victims have been verified.
For victims like Elaine Riddick the decision is very disappointing but she has not come to expect much from the state which sterilized her at 14 years old. “I was raped twice,” Elaine Riddick said, “once by the perpetrator and once by the state of North Carolina.”