Legislation filed to compensate Eugenics victims

Published 11:05 am Friday, May 18, 2012

RALEIGH – It’s been referred to as North Carolina’s version of the Holocaust.

Now, state officials are attempting to verify those individuals still alive today following their involuntary sterilization decades ago.

On Wednesday, legislation was introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives to officially compensate victims of the former N.C. Eugenics Board program. The bill (HB947: Eugenics Compensation Program) reflects the recommendations of the Governor’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force, which filed its final report in January. It will establish a $10 million fund from which to issue a lump-sum, tax-free payment of $50,000 to eligible recipients and sets a deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, to file a claim.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers backed the proposed legislation, to include Rep. Larry Womble, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Reps. Earline Parmon and Skip Stam. A Senate companion bill is expected to be filed shortly.

“I am encouraged that legislators are working together in the best interests of citizens who were affected by this repugnant program,” said Gov. Bev Perdue. “We owe it to those who were harmed so many years ago that we take action now, during this session, and provide compensation and services to eligible recipients.”

Currently, 132 individuals, one of which resides in Bertie County, have been verified by the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, of which 118 (about 90 percent) are living. More verification requests are being researched with assistance from State Archivists as it is believed that as many as 2,000 sterilization victims are still alive.

According to the North Carolina Department of Administration website, from 1929 until 1974 an estimated 7,600 North Carolinians, women and men, many of whom were poor, undereducated, institutionalized, sick or disabled, were sterilized by choice, force or coercion under the authorization of the North Carolina Eugenics Board program. That program made the determination that thousands of North Carolinians were “not fit to reproduce” and ordered they undergo the sterilization process. A 1937 state law was approved, which authorized the temporary admission of those “unfit individuals” into state hospitals for the purpose of sterilization.

Each county in the state had sterilization victims, according to a map that was part of the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation’s website. During the Eugenics Board program’s peak years of June 1946 until June 1968, a total of 5,368 sterilizations were performed. Several hundred more victims were sterilized between 1968 and 1974 when the program ceased operations.

According to the map, of the Roanoke-Chowan area counties where local citizens were subject to undergo involuntary sterilization, Hertford County topped that list with 106 procedures during the peak years of 1946 to 1968. Forty-four Bertie County residents suffered that fate; as did 41 in Gates and 37 in Northampton.

Mecklenburg County led with state with 485 sterilization procedures. It was one of 11 counties statewide, including Hertford, to document 100 or more of these procedures. Tyrell County had the fewest with four.

“We can and must take care of the victims who have waited all these years to be heard,” said Rep. Womble, an early supporter and sponsor of compensation legislation. “There are some folks who doubted that this day would finally come. It’s taken too long, but we now stand ready to open the door and financially acknowledge the suffering the state brought to so many.”

The bill introduced on Wednesday assigns final determination of compensation eligibility to the Industrial Commission. When approved, payment will be issued through the Office of the State Treasurer.

Additionally, the bill provides continued funding for the Sterilization Victims Foundation, which serves as a clearinghouse for verification requests and will be empowered to advocate on behalf of verified victims.

If you believe you are or know someone who may have been affected by the N.C. Eugenics Boards program, call the Sterilization Victims Foundation’s toll-free hotline at 877-550-6013 (or 919-807-4270) for information, or visit its website: www.sterilizationvictims.nc.gov.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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