RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — As many as 2,000 people forcibly sterilized decades ago in North Carolina should get $50,000 each, a task force said Tuesday, marking the first time a state has moved to compensate victims of eugenics programs that weeded out the “feeble-minded” and others deemed undesirable.
The payout, which could amount to as much as $100 million, still needs approval from the Legislature. But the prospects for passage of some sort of compensation are promising, since the governor immediately embraced the recommendation, and the House speaker has come out in favor of payments.
While 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.
From 1929 to 1974, more than 7,600 people in North Carolina were surgically rendered unable to reproduce under state laws and practices that singled out epileptics and others considered mentally defective. Many were poor, black women deemed unfit to be parents.
A task force report last year said 1,500 to 2,000 of the victims were still alive, though the state has verified only 72 so far.
Last year, Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue created the five-person task force to decide how to compensate victims. It consisted of a judge, a doctor, a former journalist, a historian and a lawyer.
The panel had discussed amounts between $20,000 and $50,000, and some victims and family members had bitterly complained that was too little. The panel also weighed whether to compensate victims’ family members or descendants — some people were sterilized after giving birth — but decided against it.
On Tuesday, some victims said they were just looking forward to seeing the issue resolved.
Elaine Riddick, 57, was sterilized at 14 after she gave birth to a son who was the product of a rape.
“I was a victim twice: once by the rapist and one by the state of North Carolina. Normally, if you commit a crime, you pay for it. They committed the biggest crime. They committed a crime against God. They committed a crime against humanity,” she said, wiping tears from her face. “And this is all I can do is just accept what they said today and go on with my life.”
While taking away someone’s ability to have children sounds barbaric today, eugenics programs gained popularity in the U.S. and other countries in the early 1900s, promoted as a means of raising the health and intellectual level of the human race.
More than 30 states enacted laws allowing surgical sterilization for certain people, though not all of them carried out such procedures. More than 60,000 people were forcibly sterilized under such programs, and some historians think the same thing was done to thousands more in other states under the authority of doctors or local officials.
Most states abandoned those efforts after World War II when such practices became closely associated with Nazi Germany’s attempts to achieve racial purity, though North Carolina stood out because it actually ramped up its program after the war. Sterilizations in North Carolina peaked in the 1950s, according to state records.
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.
North Carolina is among about a half-dozen states to apologize.
Melissa Hyatt, whose stepfather was sterilized, said the task force “did what was reasonable as far as budgets and economy.”
“It’s not really about the money,” she said. “It’s about the suffering and the pain.”
Mike Marion, whose 59-year-old aunt was sterilized at 18 because she was seen as mildly disabled mentally, said estates or descendants should get some compensation, too.
“If you’re going to admit wrong, admit wrong in its whole capacity,” he said. “By offering compensation to only the living, that’s taking partial responsibility.”
Despite the potentially high price tag in this economy, there is bipartisan support for some compensation. The governor issued a statement endorsing the task force recommendation.
GOP House Speaker Thom Tillis said he will review it. But he said previously that he wants the Legislature to vote this year on a compensation plan.
Republican Sen. Richard Stevens, one of the Senate’s chief budget-writers, said $50,000 per person “seems like a small amount to pay for what they had to endure, but $100 million is a large sum for the state of North Carolina.”
“Somewhere in there there’s got to be fairness to the individuals but mindful of the realities of the state’s budget,” he said.
Gerald urged passage: “Any state or group of people can make a mistake, but it takes courage and strength of character to acknowledge wrongs and try to right them.”
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this story.
Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc
More Related Stories
- Must-see morning clip: Barackalypse Now
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- Is Pope Francis an exorcist?
- Oklahoma tornado death count at least 91
- Frantic parents search for children in tornado's wake
- Crews dig through rubble after deadly tornado
- 51 killed in massive Oklahoma tornado
- Don't cry climate-change wolf
- Record tornado devastates Oklahoma
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- Tornado reduces Oklahoma City suburb to rubble
- AP: Toll at least 37 dead in Okla. tornado
- Entire Midwest on tornado warning
- Oregon senator proposes appeal to Monsanto Protection Act
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Beltway scandal machine breaks, knows nothing about America
- Gitmo hunger striker launches Twitter campaign
- "Hero" cop, honored by Obama, accused of double rape
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- Pentagon adviser pushed Anthrax drug, which his firm produced
- Conservatives A-OK with closeted Boy Scouts
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11