It’s not news that between the 1920s and 1970s, the state of North Carolina sterilized an estimated 7,600 of its citizens in the name of the public good — or, at least, it shouldn’t be. The story broke in 2002 and has been fairly well documented since.
But the story is still alive, as are perhaps 1,500 of its victims. That’s why we dedicated most of the space in this newspaper to tell the tale, at around 7,000 words the longest, and perhaps most important, piece we’ve yet run.
You won’t find many people in support of this kind of social engineering these days, but that wasn’t always the case. In this country, in the early years of the last century, the practice of eugenics was looked upon as just another way to make things better until Hitler came along and gave the whole thing a really bad name. Most states stopped their eugenics programs after World War II, but not North Carolina, where we escalated our involuntary sterilization program for another couple decades. All of the victims were poor, most of them were black and some of them were 10-year-old girls.[pullquote]There may be a thousand of them out there, scarred and childless, undoubtedly poor, for whom this money might make some difference in lives irredeemably violated by the state.[/pullquote]
We attempted to right this wrong by passing a compensation program for victims in 2013. Each one gets $50,000, which is woefully inadequate. And unlike early versions of the bill, the law does not include any funding to search for victims. Of the estimated 1,500 or so still alive, just 518 have stepped forward as of June 1. There may be a thousand of them out there, scarred and childless, undoubtedly poor, for whom this money might make some difference in lives irredeemably violated by the state.
The deadline for claims is June 30, less than two weeks from today. And aside from minimal — and unfunded— outreach by the state and publicity by media and civil rights organizations, there has been no effort to find these victims.
We have failed them once again.
This deadline needs to be dropped. Just as we have committed irreversible butchery on our own people, so should we make permanent the reparations they are owed, meager as they are.
We’re talking about at most $50 million, which is about .001 percent of the state’s annual budget. But this shouldn’t be about money. This is clearly a matter of right and wrong.
If you or someone you know might be a victim of North Carolina’s force sterilization program, call the Office of Justice for Sterilization Victims at 877.550.6013 or visit sterilizationvictims.nc.gov.