RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) — Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people whom it deemed “feeble-minded” or otherwise undesirable. Many were poor black women.
Now the first serious proposal to compensate the victims has failed, with Republican lawmakers saying the budget is too tight to give them any money.
“At this point, I have lost all hope,” one of the measure’s biggest supporters, Rep. Earline Parmon, said Wednesday.
People as young as 10 were sterilized, in some cases for not getting along with schoolmates, or for being promiscuous. Although officials obtained consent from patients or their guardians, many did not understand what they were signing.
Most U.S. states had eugenics programs years ago but abandoned them after World War II, when such practices became closely associated with Nazi Germany’s attempts to achieve racial purity. Scientists also debunked the assumption that “defective” humans could be weeded out of the population.
North Carolina stood out because it grew its program after the war.
The state’s new effort to give each victim $50,000 passed the state House, and Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue set aside $10 million in her proposed budget for the payouts, but Republican lawmakers in the Senate said the state didn’t have the money. They also feared paying the victims would lead other groups, such as descendants of slaves, to seek reparations.
A group set up to help victims estimated up to 1,800 are still living, though it had only verified 146.
The N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation held numerous public hearings over the past year on whether to compensate the victims.
“That’s the only thing I hated about being operated on, ’cause I couldn’t have kids,” Willis Lynch, 77, who was sterilized at 14, said at a hearing last year. “It’s always been in the back of my mind.”
But giving victims money would not change anything, Republican Sen. Don East said last week.
“You just can’t rewrite history. It was a sorry time in this country,” East said. “I’m so sorry it happened, but throwing money don’t change it, don’t make it go away. It still happened.”
One of the most outspoken victims, Elaine Riddick, has said she was raped and then sterilized after giving birth to a son when she was 14.
In 1983, a jury rejected victims’ claims that they had been wrongfully deprived of their right to bear children. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the case.
“I have given North Carolina a chance to justify what they had wronged,” Riddick said Wednesday. “These people here don’t care about these victims. … I will die before I let them get away with this.”
Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.