A forcible sterilization program with overtures of eugenics seems like something out of Nazi Germany, but it wasn’t only the Nazis who perpetuated such evils. Such actions were taken right here in the United States as well, and it was not an isolated occurrence.
At least 30 states ran horrific programs that sterilized people, mostly Black women, against their will or without their knowledge. Few of the programs were as outrageous as the one in North Carolina, where almost 8,000 people were sterilized between 1929 and 1974, according to reports.
While many of the states have apologized for this barbarity, North Carolina is the only one considering compensating the victims. A recent task force, formed in 2010 by Gov. Beverly Perdue, has recommended that each of the surviving victims be awarded $50,000.
Many of the victims feel that the amount is inadequate, placing a small value on the wreckage caused to their lives and the loss of potential children. The task force’s report briefly addressed this issue, noting that compensation “is not meant to value life, loss or the choices taken away from nearly 7,600 men and women but to serve as a strong and collective acknowledgment of an abusive government program that should never be duplicated by this state or any other government ever again.”
The task force reported that 1,500 to 2,000 of the victims of the program are still alive, though the state has only verified 72 so far.
“Those who were sterilized,” wrote Lisa Wang, a Harvard law student, “often did not know the purpose of the surgeries until after the fact. Victims were chosen using IQ tests and social worker recommendations based on factors such as ‘promiscuity’ and ‘feeble-mindedness’ and reports on mental and physical health. The state’s Eugenics Board made the final decision on the operation.”
Last November, Elaine Riddick told her story to two reporters. What happened to her is typical of how the sterilization program worked in North Carolina. She was 13, she began, when she was raped and impregnated in 1967. The state ordered that after she had her baby, her fallopian tubes be tied.
“I have to carry these scars,” she told the reporters. “I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”
Riddick had no idea what was happening to her, she said. “I got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that’s all I remember…When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach.”
It was only years later, when she was attempting to have children, that a doctor informed her that she had been sterilized.
Riddick said she felt she had been raped twice: “Once by the rapist and one by the state of North Carolina.”
Last Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., two lawmakers, Republican Speaker of the State House of Representatives Thom Tillis and Earline Parmon, a Democrat from Winston-Salem, held a town hall meeting to discuss how the matter should be handled and what compensation should be given to the victims.