From 1929 to 1974 about 7,600 (and possibly more) people were sterilized without their consent because they were assessed by state social workers to be “feeble-minded,” having a “mental disease” or suffering from epilepsy.
Many of those that were forcibly sterilized were poor, black women deemed unfit to be parents. From NPR:
People as young as 10 were sterilized, in some cases for not getting along with schoolmates or for being promiscuous. Although officials obtained consent from patients or their guardians, many did not comprehend what they were signing.
About 2,000 of these people are still alive and on Tuesday a state task force determined that they should recieve $50,000 each, as compensation for their forcible sterilizations. While it still needs approval from the NC state legislature, this is the first time a state has moved to compensate victims of eugenics programs. Both the governor and other state legislators are supportive of the compensation and it is expected to pass.
Dozens of states had programs in the 20th century that allowed people to be sterilized against their will in the name of improving the human race, none of the others has offered anything more than apologies.
Compensation “sends a clear message that we in North Carolina are people who pay for our mistakes and that we do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights,” said panel chairwoman Dr. Laura Gerald, a pediatrician.
The Winston-Salem Journal has an excellent series on the program, with the stories and videos of survivors and details about the just how agressively North Carolina pursued it’s eugenics policies. A story from the series:
Nial Cox Ramirez remembers every detail of what happened to her in 1965, even though she has been trying hard to forget.
Ramirez had a choice to make, and it was a wrenching decision for an an 18-year-old who had just had her first child.
Her options? Sign a form from the Eugenics Board of North Carolina “consenting” to be sterilized, or have welfare payments for her mother and six brothers and sisters cut off.
“To sit and think about it literally eats you – slow, real slow. It eats you piece by piece,” Ramirez said recently. “That’s why I don’t want to go back there. Because it’s a hell within a hell that you going through. It’s like a cancer that eats.”
Ramirez is now 56 years old. She lives outside Atlanta. She is still trying to make sense of what happened.
This compensation is not enough. Because there’s no sufficient monetary compensation for such a deep and profound violation of human rights. It will never be ok.
That said, I hope that this will set a precedent for other states that had such programs to follow suit and claim this horrific history as truth – to name it, to acknowledge the racism inherent in it, to apologize, to make an effort and ultimately, to acknowledge the humanity of the victms.