Eugenics Task Force Seeks $50,000 for Eugenics Victims
This week, a Eugenics Task Force voted to compensate Eugenics victims in North Carolina $50,000 each for those victims who remain living today. Out of over 7,500 forced sterilizations performed in North Carolina during the 1900’s, approximately 2,000 eugenics victims are still living.
Forced sterilizations were the primary goal of the U.S. Eugenics program during the last century. The genesis of the U.S. eugenics program was the theory that through a form of selective breeding (or prevention of), mental disease and other conditions could be weeded out of American society and end once and for all what many saw as a corrupting genetic influence by foreign immigrants streaming into America during the early 1900s.
Although 33 states bear the sullied history of forced sterilization, North Carolina is an especial example of abuse due to its having increased its numbers of sterilizations after WWII at a time when many other states began to find the practice distasteful after learning about the Nazi atrocities in their eugenics programs. Forced sterilizations were performed as late as 1974 in North Carolina.
Another factor that makes North Carolina’s eugenics program infamous is that it went beyond the original limitations of U.S. eugenics programs.
In the beginning, eugenics was limited to the sterilization of inmates of mental institutions and prisons by targeting those who were identified as mentally ill, mentally retarded or suffering from epilepsy. However, by the middle of the 20th century through movements such as “The Human Betterment League,” criteria for forced sterilizations were expanded to include everything from poor hygiene to unwed pregnancies—and often at the whim of a low-level official or healthcare provider.
By the late 50s and early 60’s and beyond, impoverished and uneducated Black women were disproportionately targeted for sterilization—often at the bequest of a social worker. According to the findings of the North Carolina task force, however, throughout the entire eugenics history in North Carolina, more Caucasian women were forcibly sterilized than African-American women.
One story about a sterilized African-American woman told on NPR is Elaine Riddick who was sterilized at age 14 after giving birth to a baby that was the result of a rape. During the sterilization operation, she was not aware that she was being sterilized and only discovered it at age 19 while trying to get pregnant to start a family with her husband.
Consent to her sterilization was granted by her illiterate grandmother and an uncaring father. Today, she blames the sterilization for her ended marriage and still carries the trauma of what had happened to her and is quoted as saying, “I felt like I was nothing. It’s like, the people that did this; they took my spirit away from me.”
Over the years, she and others like her have tried to get states that enforced sterilizations as part of their eugenics programs to admit to their transgressions and provide recompense to the victims and their families. However, out of the 33 states only seven have issued a formal apology. North Carolina is the only state thus far attempting to make any sort of financial restitution or amends for their misdeeds.
The recommendation by the North Carolina Eugenics Task Force to compensate the still-living eugenics victims (but not surviving family members) with $50,000 each will now go to the North Carolina legislature for a ruling.
Image source: Courtesy of Wikipedia