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N. Carolina refuses to compensate hundreds sterilized under eugenics prog

Published time: June 21, 2012 11:44
Edited time: June 21, 2012 15:44
Eugenics Protest circa 1971 originally published by Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF)

Eugenics Protest circa 1971 originally published by Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF)

North Carolina has voted down the first attempt to compensate the victims of its eugenics program, one of 32 such programs that sterilized tens of thousands without their knowledge or consent across the US from the 1930s to the 1970s.

­Opponents cited budgetary restraints and concerns of setting an unfair precedent for other groups that claim to have been victimized as the main reasons for their vote, according to the Associated Press.

North Carolina senator Austin Allran says "The state has no money anyway and the teachers would like to have a pay raise, and state employees would like to have a pay raise and you're dealing with a $250 million shortfall in Medicaid.”

North Carolina would have been the first state to grant restitution to the victims of its program, as Governor Bev Purdue sought to include $10 million (roughly $50,000 per victim) in the 2012 state budget for the survivors. 

Several North Carolina lawmakers were dismayed, saying they were “ashamed” to be part of the general assembly. Republican Thom Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House, called the decision “a personal failure”, and pledged to continue his support of the measure. Tillis has advocated heavily for the plan throughout his term.

However, the defeat weighs heaviest on the surviving victims. One of the most vocal, Elaine Riddick, was raped as a young girl, deemed “promiscuous”, and sterilized without her consent immediately after giving birth. She was 14. 

"I have given North Carolina a chance to justify what they had wronged," she said. "I gave them up until the last moment, but now I have no other choice. These people here don't care about these victims. … I will die before I let them get away with this."

Riddick is now planning legal action on behalf of all the victims, both living and deceased.

“I have to carry these scars with me. I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”

­

A chilling experiment in genetics

Much attention has been paid in recent months to America’s silent eugenics program. Originally conceived in the 1920s, eugenics was viewed by many as a way to alleviate economic pressure on welfare programs across the US by giving the state the right to remove individuals deemed unfit for reproduction from the gene pool.  Of those labeled “feeble-minded” or “promiscuous” or victims of rape, tens of thousands were subjected to sterilization under the cold blade of the US government’s knife, often without consent or knowledge that the state had decided to deprive them of their ability to have children.

As reports of similar programs across 32 states have come to light over the past years, North Carolina’s program has the distinction of being the most aggressive and prolonged. Operating from 1933 to 1977, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina quietly sterilized an estimated 7,600 people, targeting minorities and poor young women due to their low income and education.