North Carolina and 30 other states hosted a government-run eugenics program that resulted in involuntary sterilization of thousands of Americans by the 1960s. It was not until 2003 that North Carolina officially repealed the law allowing involuntary sterilization.
It is appalling that this program, which targeted women, young girls and African-Americans, continued and was socially acceptable for such a long time.
Elaine Riddick, who became pregnant at age 13 after being raped by a neighbor in 1967, was never told that she had been sterilized. Riddick did not learn until she was 19, married and wanting children that a eugenics board had approved her sterilization and labeled her as promiscuous and feebleminded.
It has taken until this decade for victims to speak out and for any apologies to surface. During the last eight years, North Carolina lawmakers have been attempting to find a way to compensate the many victims of this act.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue created a task force in August that recommended compensation for the nearly 2,000 surviving victims. Sums up to $50,000 have been suggested, as well as mental health services for the victims and a traveling museum exhibit about the state’s eugenics program.
Although the state needs to try and make amends, no amount of compensation can set right the horrors inflicted upon the unsuspecting victims.
Eugenics, a scientific theory that became popular in the 1920s, suggested that poverty, promiscuity and alcoholism were inherited traits and that people with those traits should be sterilized to improve society’s gene pool.
According to an article on msnbc.com, the process began as a means of controlling welfare spending on poor white women and men, but shifted focus over time in North Carolina to target more women and blacks.
A third of the sterilizations performed in North Carolina were performed on girls under 18 and as young as 9 years old, the article said.
Eugenic practices were not only inhumane, but a violation of basic human rights and in the case of North Carolina, a clear disregard for civil rights. The situation is made more horrific by the fact that these victims were not made aware of the mutilation they endured.
Although the wounds inflicted can never be healed, our country and North Carolina in particular must do everything in their power to atone for its ignorant mistakes.