North Carolina still trying to compensate victims of state’s forced sterilization program

“I have to carry these scars with me. I have to live with this for the rest of my life.” Elaine Riddick, who was forcibly sterilized under North Carolina’s eugenics program in 1967

We’ve written before about North Carolina’s particularly terrible forced sterilization law. One of 31 states with a government-run eugenics program, North Carolina is now the only one to be trying to compensate the survivors of this shameful chapter in their history:

It began as a way to control welfare spending on poor white women and men, but over time, North Carolina shifted focus, targeting more women and more blacks than whites. A third of the sterilizations performed in North Carolina were done on girls under the age of 18. Some were as young as nine years old.

For the past eight years, North Carolina lawmakers have been working to find a way to compensate those involuntarily sterilized in the state between 1929 and 1974. During that time period, 7,600 people were sterilized in North Carolina. Of those who were sterilized, 85 percent of the victims were female and 40 percent were non-white.

While officials think that as many as 2,000 are still alive, only 48 victims have been tracked down so far. And how much they’ll be compensated remains to be seen. Some victims and advocates say that the state is procrastinating in compensating them, but Governor Beverly Perdue has said, “I want this solved on my watch.”

Let’s hope. For folks like Elaine Riddick–who was sterilized, without her knowledge let alone consent, after being raped at age 13–it’s probably too little and too late. But at least it’s something. She said, “I would like for the state of North Carolina to right what they wronged with me.”

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Ali

    I only became aware of this wide spread continuation of eugenics a couple of years ago in a lecture, evolutionary biology, and it sickened me. Most western countries have some dark past with this sort of social darwinism but certainly it was most widespread in the U.S.

    It saddens me that this was the case for two reasons; the largest being the great pain and cruelty upon other human beings, the other is the total lack of reading (Darwin in Origins actively speaks against natural selection in society) or understanding of the science.

    Of course to some degree the gross inequality in wealth continues to keep the poor out of proper healthcare access and is eugenics by another stroke.

  • Michael Crichton

    Per the article, 60% of the victims were white, compared to 68% of the general population circa 2010. As there’s been a lot of demographic change over the past few decades, are we so sure that it did, in fact, disproportionately target black people? Does anyone know where the raw data can be found?

  • Mark Kernes

    Can’t help but notice that if “Of those who were sterilized, 85 percent of the victims were female and 40 percent were non-white,” means that 60 percent of those sterilized WERE white, and suggesting that welfare rolls were populated by a greater percentage of whites than any conservative worth her/his salt wants to admit.