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Hundreds of North Carolina women sterilized against their will to receive $50,000 compensation

by | Jan 13, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Dr. Laura Gerald

The task force established to decide how much victims of a North Carolina sterilization program should be compensated agreed on a figure Tuesday of $50,000.  North Carolina was by no means the only state that promoted a eugenics-based sterilization in the 20th Century—there were, in fact, 32! But while there are about a half-dozen states apologizing “for past eugenics programs, [North Carolina] is alone in trying to put together a plan to compensate victims,” according to the Associated Press.

The program, which ran from 1929 to 1974, authorized the sterilization of about 7,600 North Carolina residents–some as young as 10.  The five-member task force, headed by Dr. Laura Gerald, said the money should go to verified, living victims, including those who are alive now but may die before the lawmakers approve any compensation. The task force  was appointed in March 2011 and included a judge, doctor, former journalist, historian, and attorney.

Currently only 72 victims have been verified. But the estimates are that 1,500 to 2,000 victims–“disproportionately minorities and many poor, uneducated and mentally handicapped,” according to the Associated Press— are expected to be living.  “A 1933 state law authorized the sterilization of people deemed to be “mentally diseased, feeble-minded or epileptic.“

“We have repeatedly acknowledged and stated as a task force that no amount of money can adequately pay for the harm done to these citizens,” Gerald said. “We are not attempting through our work to place a value on anyone’s life. However, we are attempting to achieve a level of financial compensation and other services that can provide meaningful assistance to survivors.” She added, “Compensation also serves a collective purpose for the state and 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.”

The North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation is helping to locate victims, and the Task Force recommended its continued financing.

Virginia and California each sterilized more people , according to the Charlotte Observer, but only “North Carolina gave social workers the power to designate people for sterilization”

Just how widespread the eugenics mentality was in the United States became clearer when the Annals of Human Genetics opened its archives in early 2011 to reveal a dark past. The Annals of Human Genetics changed its name in 1954. The new name sounded much more respectable than what it was called when founded in 1925–-the “Annals of Eugenics.”

Aimed at breeding “better” humans, the eugenics movement was a cause taken up from dozens of states. By the 1960s, there had been more than 60,000 forced sterilizations, according to a May 2011 story by USA Today reporter Dan Vergano.

Those who have a passing familiarity with the American Eugenics Movement instantly think of Carrie Buck. In the 1927 Buck vs. Bell court decision, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (one of those “best” people) wrote, “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The decision legalized forced sterilizations nationwide.

“The eugenics movement of the early 20th century has rightfully been totally discredited, and the contribution it made to horrendous social policies implemented at the time is well known,” Andrés Ruiz Linares, editor of Annals of Human Genetics, told Vergano. “People interested in the history of human genetics necessarily need to look at the dark period of eugenics.”

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