Thursday, January 12, 2012

North Carolina Eugenics Task Force Recommends $50,000 Reparations for Survivors

In North Carolina over 7,600 people were sterilized between 1929 and 1974 under the state’s Eugenics Sterilization Program. Indiana was the first state to implement such a program, and eventually over 30 states followed suit, including North Carolina in 1929. The Eugenics Board of North Carolina reviewed petitions for sterilizations and authorized sterilizations in over 90% of cases. Of those sterilized, approximately 38% were black and 84% were female; moreover, 71% were classified as “feebleminded.” While most states’ sterilization programs diminished in scope after World War II, almost 80% of North Carolina’s cases occurred after 1945. By the late 1960’s over 60% of those sterilized in North Carolina were black and 99% were female.

In 1972 the Eugenics Board became the Eugenics Commission, and was finally abolished in 1977. In 2002, the state of North Carolina formally apologized to the victims of sterilization, and in 2003 the General Assembly repealed the law that authorized involuntary sterilization.

On March 8, 2011, Governor Beverly Perdue issued Executive Order 83 to create the Governor's Task Force to Determine the Method of Compensation for Victims of North Carolina's Eugenics Board, which functions with the support of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. After months of investigation and public hearings, the Task Force issued a preliminary report on August 1, 2011 and three additional reports on December 6, 2011.

At its most recent meeting on January 10, 2012, the Task Force voted on its final recommendations, which included the recommendation that the state pay $50,000 to each surviving victim. In response, Governor Perdue issued the following statement:
Thank you to the devoted members of this task force for months of diligent, careful and thoughtful work to address one of the most difficult and emotionally wrenching issues in our state’s history.

While no amount of money will ever make up for the fact that government officials deprived North Carolinians, mostly women, of the possibility of having children—and officials did so, in most cases, without the victims’ consent or against their will—we must do something. I support the task force’s compensation proposal. I also agree that we should establish a permanent exhibit so that this shameful period is never forgotten. I look forward to reviewing the details of the task force’s recommendations.
Although it is unknown at present how many survivors there are, it is estimated that there may be as many as 1500 to 2000. The North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation strongly encourages anyone believing he or she was sterilized under the authority of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina to contact them for assistance in documenting a potential claim.

Readers interested in learning more about the historical background of eugenics can check out Eugenics in North Carolina at the State Library of North Carolina web site, as well as the Winston-Salem Journal's project, Against Their Will: North Carolina’s Sterilization Program.

In addition, the North Carolina History of Health Digital Collection, a grant project initiated and directed by the Common Curator, contains all volumes of the Biennial Report of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina [1934-1966], and the survey report, Eugenical Sterilization in North Carolina [1935].

Of related interest are an archival finding aid for Eugenics Commission documents and previous Common Curator posts: North Carolina Dedicates Eugenics Historical Marker and The History of Eugenics in North Carolina.

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