North Carolina Considers Compensating Victims Of Eugenics

Legislators in North Carolina are considering compensation for victims of eugenics. This would be a bigger step towards achieving some kind of justice for the people who endured this practice than I’ve seen before. In Virginia I remember the present Senator Mark Warner, when he was the state’s governor, issued a public apology for the practice. I imagine that a public apology of that sort could be put to better use as toilet paper.

The Charlotte Observer has a story on efforts underway to find still living eugenics victims, N.C. eugenics survivors prove elusive.

State officials say they believe at least 1,500 of the women, girls, boys and men sterilized under state authority from 1929 to 1974 are still alive.

One year into a 3 year quest for still living sterilization abuse victims, and only 34 such victims to date have been found. Nonetheless, some of those survivors are reported to be very vocal in expressing their outrage.

The Eugenics Board of North Carolina – one of many similar boards across the country – authorized sterilization of roughly 7,600 North Carolinians. Mecklenburg County did the most in the state, by far. From 1946 to 1968, when the state kept its most detailed records, 485 people in Mecklenburg were sterilized through the eugenics board. Gaston County was third, with 161.

3 categories of people were targeted for sterilization by the state, people labeled with “mental illness”, people with epilepsy, and people deemed “feeble minded”.

North Carolina is the first state to seriously consider compensating survivors. In March, [Govenor Bev] Perdue created a five-person task force to figure out possible cash payments for people sterilized under the eugenics board. The task force has met four times but hasn’t settled on an amount; the number it has talked about most is $20,000 per victim. But nothing’s final, and the task force won’t make an official recommendation until February.

This compensation would be small potatoes, and as one observer complained, way too small. A eugenics victim in Canada sued for $740,000. In another case, 1000 Canadian victims received $142,000,000. Small as it would be, this compensation would still represent an great improvement over no official acknowledgment of wrong doing at all and continued state neglect.

State Representative Larry Womble of Winston-Salem has introduced a bill into the state legislature asking for $20,000 for every living victim found of North Carolina’s sterilization practices.

It must be remembered that North Carolina wasn’t alone in sterilizing people in the name of eugenics. I hope the state does succeed in compensating its victims, and I hope that such an action will set a precedent that other states can follow. Given any other course of action, in this instance, and justice still waits to be served.