Despite signals earlier this year that the State of North Carolina would once again not include plans compensation for the victims of the state’s infamous eugenics programs in the state’s budget, it seems that those who suffered forcible or coerced sterilization at the hands of the state will see some restitution after all as North Carolina is set to become the first state to provide compensation to victims of a state eugenics program.
On July 25th, the State Legislature passed a budget which would distribute $10 million amongst those who remain of the victims of the state’s coercive and forcible sterilization policy that existed in North Carolina from 1929 until 1974. Discussion of compensation has been going on for a long time and the North Carolina Legislature has been wrestling with the issue for ten years. “It’s been a long hard fight,” said state Rep. Larry Womble (D). “We’re trying to correct a wrong.”
“There were challenges, we had to better educate our members- and then of course we had to work through the fiscal challenges- but at the end of the day, we’ve done something truly historic,” said State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), who has led on this issue. This tremendous effort has been supported by concerted bi-partisan support. Members of both parties, including a Democratic and Republican Governor, had worked to see that victims on this gross violation of human rights see some compensation for the pain they have gone through.
According to Charmaine Fuller-Cooper, former director of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, less than 200 people have come forward. That means each verified victim would receive about $50,000.
Over the course of 45 years, the infamous North Carolina Eugenics Board sterilized roughly 7,600 people. As with similar eugenics programs throughout the country, the North Carolina program believed it was serving humanity by sterilizing the “unfit”- those who were in fact the poor, the uneducated, and the minorities.
While eugenics is generally condemned as “pseudo-science” today, in the first half of the 20th century it found a great deal of support. Those who supported the eugenic movement were not the uneducated and uncouth. They were not led by a narrow worldview and limited access to information. Rather, they were the academics who led at the nation’s most prestigious institutions, the leaders who shaped the policy of the country, and the progressives with opportunities to make positive changes. They truly were the elites of America. It was because of these the influence of these supporters that those like Charles Holt, who was forcibly sterilized at 19 while living in a home for boys, were able to be robbed of their human dignity.
The persistence of these North Carolina lawmakers, as well as their ability to work together in spite of party lines, is to be greatly admired. Those for whom they have long been seeking reparations and justice are not the influential or the strong. The victims of eugenics programs in North Carolina and across the country were taken advantage of by their own home states when they were young and defenseless. Now the victims who are still living must face their old age without the comforts of children or grandchildren and with a life full of memories tarnished by forced sterilizations programs. It is to be hoped that other states where similar atrocities have taken place will follow North Carolina’s example and seek to make amends with those who dignity they have robbed and see that they are provided for in their old age.