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Entries in Eugenics (2)

Sunday
Jun242012

North Carolina Senate Denies Funds for Sterilization Victims

iStockphoto/ThinkStock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- The North Carolina Senate rejected a plan to compensate victims of a mass sterilization plan that targeted mostly poor minorities for decades in the 20th century.

On Wednesday, Senate Republicans refused to support the measure put forth by the House to set aside $10 million in the state budget for compensation, which would have given victims $50,000 each. The move would have made North Carolina the first state to compensate eugenics victims.

"I'm sorry that it happened," Sen. Don East told the Raleigh-based News and Observer. "I just don't think money fixes it."

From 1929 to 1974, an estimated 7,600 people were sterilized by consent, coercion or without their knowledge as a part of the North Carolina Eugenics Board program, according to the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. The office estimates that up to 1,800 victims are still living, and 146 have been verified so far.

Charmaine Fuller Cooper, the executive director, told the News and Observer that the foundation would shut down by the end of the month because state funding is ending.

North Carolina ran one of the country's most active eugenics programs, targeting people who were poor and undereducated, and those with physical or mental disabilities. The North Carolina Eugenics Board, a five-person panel, made its decisions in the name of social welfare.

Elaine Riddick, 58, was one of the victims. Pregnant after she was raped at age 14, Riddick was sterilized without her knowledge when she went to a North Carolina hospital to give birth to her son in 1968. Years later, she learned what had happened to her.

Riddick's attorney, Willie Gary, said Riddick was "hurt" and "in tears" after hearing the state senate's decision Wednesday. Riddick has said she would file a class action lawsuit seeking compensation from the state.

"She's suffered for so long, and now this is just pouring salt on a wound that has been there for years and years and years," Gary told ABC News.

Riddick told her story to ABC News last year.

Deemed "promiscuous" and "feebleminded" by a social worker at the hospital, Riddick, who came from a black family on welfare, was recommended to the state for sterilization. Riddick's illiterate grandmother was told that they were doing a "procedure" that was necessary to help the young girl; she signed the consent papers with an X. The state authorized and paid for the procedure, and without her consent or even her knowledge, Riddick was sterilized shortly after she gave birth.

"They didn't have permission from me because I was too young, and my grandmother didn't understand what was going on," Riddick told ABCNews.com. "They said I was feebleminded, they said I would never be able to do anything for myself. I was a little bitty kid and they cut me open like a hog."

At one time or another in the 20th century, more than half of the states in the U.S. had programs that allowed for the sterilization of those the government deemed unfit to procreate.

When most programs began in the early 1930s, this usually meant those in institutions for mental illness or mental retardation, but over the decades criminals, the blind, the deaf, the disabled, alcoholics, those with epilepsy and ultimately the rural poor on welfare would fall under the umbrella of "unfit to procreate."

In all, 65,000 Americans were sterilized before the last state program was shut down in the early 1980s.

Though detailed, often meticulous records of these sterilizations survive in state archives; America's experience with selective sterilization has for the most part been a buried chapter in the nation's history.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Aug042011

Justice for Sterilization Victims Sheds Light on Eugenics in the US

Comstock/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- Poor, a victim of child molestation and pregnant from rape, 14-year-old Elaine Riddick went into a North Carolina hospital in 1968 to give birth to her son. Though she wouldn't know it until years later, she would leave the hospital robbed of the ability to ever bear children again.

On top of the poverty, abuse, and neglect that marked her childhood, Riddick had the misfortune of becoming the target of the North Carolina eugenics board, a five person state committee responsible for ordering the sterilization of thousands of individuals in the name of social welfare during the last century.

"They didn't have permission from me because I was too young and my grandmother didn't understand what was going on," Riddick, now 57, tells ABC News. "They said I was feebleminded, they said I would never be able to do anything for myself. I was a little bitty kid and they cut me open like a hog."

Riddick is one of over 7,600 women, men, and children who were sterilized by choice, coercion, or most often, without consent during the North Carolina sterilization program's 45-year reign. At some point in the century, more than half of the states in the U.S. had similar programs that allowed for the sterilization of those the government deemed unfit to procreate.

When most programs began in the early 1930s, this usually meant those in institutions for mental illness or mental retardation, but over the decades criminals, the blind, the deaf, the disabled, alcoholics, those with epilepsy, and ultimately the rural poor on welfare would fall under the umbrella of "unfit to procreate."

In all, 65,000 Americans were sterilized before the last program was shut down in the early 1980s.

Though detailed, often meticulous records of these sterilizations survive in state archives, America's flirtation with selective sterilization has for the most part been a buried chapter in our nation's history.

"Eugenics in the U.S. is something that's still not nationally known. People associate it with Nazis; they don't realize that the U.S. did it too," says Rebecca Kluchin, an assistant professor of History at California State University, Sacramento who specializes in the U.S. eugenics programs.

Only seven of the 33 states who ran such programs have even publicly acknowledged or apologized to victims of sterilization. Only North Carolina, home to the third most prolific and arguably the most racist sterilization program in the nation, has recently made moves to compensate its victims.

In 2010, Gov. Bev Berdue established the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, whose mission is to determine proper compensation for those still suffering from the state's mistakes. Fewer than 2,000 sterilization victims are estimated to still be alive today.

A sum of $20,000 to $50,000 compensation per living victim was floated in preliminary recommendations issued by the foundation's task force Monday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio