Victims of North Carolina Forced Sterilization Eugenics Program Tell Their Shocking Stories
Over the course of five decades, from the 1920s until the 1970s, some 7,600 North Carolina residents were forcibly sterilized, often under false pretenses, in a state-wide eugenics program the likes of which inspired Adolf Hitler’s extermination of “undesirable” elements of society. Nearly 3,000 victims of the North Carolina program are currently alive, and today they had a chance to testify about the unimaginably horrific ordeal the state put them through.
According to WRAL, 33 states had eugenics programs in the 20th century. Government and medical officials believed that the human race could be improved by “breeding out” undesirable characteristics such as mental retardation and disabilities. Most states and foreign countries turned their backs on such barbarism after WWII, when similar programs in Nazi Germany were roundly condemned as supremely inhumane.
But rather than shut down its eugenics program, North Carolina ramped up its forced sterilization efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. The state had the most sweeping eugenics laws in the nation, enabling doctors and even social workers to refer people living on their own to the Eugenics Board for sterilization. In other states, candidates for sterilization had to be imprisoned or institutionalized as a prerequisite for the procedure.
Shockingly, female promiscuity was considered valid grounds for forced sterilization in North Carolina. So was poverty. Some 85% of the victims were females, some of them as young as ten years old.
WRAL reported on the testimonies of some of the victims.
“They cut me open like I was a hog,” testified Elaine Riddick, who was forcibly sterilized in 1968 at the tender age of 13 after she was raped by a neighbor and carried the child to term. “My body was too young for what they did.”
Mary Frances-Smith testified that a doctor laughed at her when she told him she was getting married and wanted the procedure reversed. She said they’d lied to her and told her that the operation was simply a way for her to stop worrying about birth control.
“When you go through something like that, you don’t get over it,” she said.
North Carolina’s Governor, Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, was present for some of the testimonies. “It’s hard for me to accept, to understand, to even figure out how these atrocious acts could be carried out in this country,” she lamented.
North Carolina, which didn’t strike its forced sterilization law from the books until 2003, has apologized (so have at least six other states) and established a process to compensate victims. But the $20,000 proposed compensation is woefully inadequate, say those whose lives have been ruined by what they went through.
“What do you think I’m worth?” Riddick asked. “It doesn’t matter what you think I’m worth. It’s what I think I’m worth.”
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