Sterilization Program Leaves 7,600 with Scars in North Carolina

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However, North Carolina was not the only state to promote such practices. More than half of the states in the US have had eugenics laws in place at some point in recent history and more than 60,000 individuals have been sterilized throughout the US in connection with state-sanctioned sterilization programs.

North Carolina took the program further than some other states did and used it as means of cutting welfare costs. According to Wallace Kuralt, the head of the Mecklenburg County Welfare Department from 1945 to 1972, his department focused primarily on “low mentality-low income families which tend to produce the largest number of children.”

While it sounds like something out of a dystopic novel, this was a reality in the US from the 1920s to the 1970s. Ultimately, 7,600 individuals were sterilized in North Carolina alone and while the state issued an apology in 2002, those who were involuntarily sterilized have not received financial compensation or counseling services. To date, the state has only been able to match 41 victims with their records.

Over time, three task forces have been established to determine how much each victim should be compensated but coming up with a number has proved to be difficult. “From my perspective, and as a woman, and as the governor of this state, this is not about the money. There isn't enough money in the world to pay these people for what has been done to them but money is part of the equation,” said Governor Beverly Perdue.

In an effort to bring attention to their plight, several of the victims came forward this summer to tell their stories at a public hearing. In 1967, 13 year old Elaine Riddick was raped and impregnated by a neighbor. When she went to the hospital to give birth, she was completely unaware that a state-eugenics board had submitted orders for her to be sterilized. “Got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that's all I remember. When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach,” said Riddick.

At the age of 19, Riddick discovered that she was sterilized and could not have children with her husband. According to records, Riddick was a candidate for sterilization because she was “feebleminded” and promiscuous. However, she went on to attend college and successfully raised her son, who remains close to her.

Likewise, Janice Black was sterilized at the request of her family when she was 18 years old. Her family claimed that she had left with a man in a truck and may have had sex but Black denies this story. According to her psychological reports, Black has a “rather sophisticated use of language skill” but was nonetheless, “an exploitable individual” and therefore a candidate for sterilization.

Today, parents can still petition a judge to have their child sterilized but the process is only used as a last resort. According to Ellen Russell, director of advocacy for The Arc of North Carolina, a nonprofit group that serves the developmentally and intellectually disabled, the ability to raise a child cannot be determined by an individual's IQ. “There are certainly people with developmental disabilities who can raise children well. As there are people without developmental disabilities who can't,” asserts Russell.

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