North Carolina is considering compensating some of the nearly 7,600 victims of the program or their relatives. The program was overseen by the North Carolina Board of Eugenics and persisted well into the 1970s. Some of the victims were as young as 10 years old, and many were poor women the state deemed too “promiscuous” to be good mothers:
Nearly 7,600 men, women and children as young as 10 were sterilized under North Carolina’s eugenics laws. While other state sterilization laws focused mainly on criminals and people in mental institutions, North Carolina was one of the few to expand its reach to women who were poor.
Sterilization was seen as a way to limit the public cost of welfare. Social workers would coerce women to have the operation under threat of losing their public assistance.[...]
The North Carolina Eugenics Board was created in 1933 and operated for decades with little public scrutiny. It used rudimentary IQ tests and gossip from neighbors to justify sterilization of young girls from poor families who hung around the wrong crowd or didn’t do well in school. Girls like 13-year-old LeLa Dunston, who had just had a baby. Dunston is now 63.
Victims and family members packed into a room at a Department of Agriculture office building Wednesday to hear stories from survivors. One who testified was Elaine Riddick, who was sterilized without her knowledge at the age of 14 after she was raped and became pregnant. The state said Riddick “was promiscuous and didn’t get along well with others.” “They cut me open like I was a hog,” Riddick said.
NPR points out that just 40 years ago, “it wasn’t uncommon for a single mother on welfare, or a patient in a mental hospital in North Carolina, to be sterilized against her will.” More than half the states had eugenics laws, but unusually, North Carolina conducted most of its sterilizations after World War II and the atrocities of Nazi eugenics programs came to light.
Seven states, including North Carolina, have issued apologies to the victims of forced sterilization programs, but North Carolina would be the first to compensate them. An estimated 3,000 victims are still living and could qualify, depending on what the state task force decides in its preliminary recommendation, which are due out in August.
Sarah Bufkin contributed to this post.