Justice for Sterilization Victims update (survivor edition)

I’ve written several times about the effort to provide compensation to the victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program, which is estimated to have forcibly sterilized 7,600 people over the years 1929-1974. Here’s an update and some of the previous posts, with links updated.

Eventually, the state did set up a $10 million fund for compensation, and provided a way for survivors to file claims. The deadline for filing claims with the Office of Justice for Sterilization Victims was June 30, and the agency reports they got 780 claims, of which so far about 180 have qualified for compensation, with 200 more still under review. People who died while the state dragged its feet setting up the process — or their surviving families members — will get nothing. Probably more than half of the victims have died.

No family for you (posted 2011)

North Carolina’s eugenics program was the subject of hearings this week, dragging on with no compensation for the living victims. A collection of literature at the state’s North Carolina Digital Collections includes this 1950 propaganda pamphlet:

What for sterilization victims? (posted 2010)

North Carolina has named an executive director of the N. C. Justice for Victims of Sterilization Foundation, Charmaine Fuller Cooper. Upon her nomination, she said [link lost]:

“I’m excited about this opportunity and see it as a turning point to bringing justice to so many families and individuals affected by this tragic moment in North Carolina history.”

Moment? From 1929 to 1977, as part of the state’s contribution to the Eugenics movement, they sterilized 7,600 people, nearly four-fifths of them after WWII, according to this state report.

About half the victims of the sterilization campaign have already died. Then-Gov. Mike Easley apologized in 2002, and now-Gov. Perdue campaigned on the pledge to compensate the victims. And yet no one has been compensated, although the state’s new foundation got $250,000 to get started. A bill to give victims $20,000 each stalled last year.

Many of the the victims, more than half of whom were Black, were institutionalized, supposedly for mental retardation, illness, or whatever — although many were simply poor, uneducated or orphaned. (Here’s a historical study of those sterilized in institutions.) Although compensation has yet to reach the victims, the state has at least owned up to the travesty, which is documented in this good digital repository at the State Library, including a pamphlet from the Human Betterment League of North Carolina:

North Carolina has an interesting profile with regard to historical travesties and crimes against humanity. The casual immigrant to the American South might be surprised that compared with, say, Germany’s official attitude toward the Holocaust, there is little in the way of official recognition that the Confederacy was wrong in the Civil War. For example, the monuments to those who fought for “their country,” the Confederacy, remain on display – like this one at UNC, which honors students and alumni who contributed to that cause:

In Germany, the old Nazi Party and some of its descendants were banned, but U.S. organizations dedicated to preserving the honor of war criminals are allowed to flourish. (I’m for state-protected free speech, just not state-sponsored monuments to the Confederacy.)

On the other hand, we’ve seen some notable symbolic efforts beyond the sterilization issue. The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission at least produced a comprehensive report on the White establishment’s coup against the local government at the end of Reconstruction. And the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission has produced a report on the attack by Klansmen on communist anti-racism activists. And legally, North Carolina is virtually alone in its official willingness to consider actual innocence claims when new evidence emerges after criminal convictions [for now, anyway].

For historical crimes, compensating the victims matters. Symbolism matters, too.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Justice for Sterilization Victims update (survivor edition)

  1. Thanks for this post. When I was chair of soc at Wake Forest we brought in Johann Schoen—than at Iowa—(“Between Choice and Coercion: Women and the Politics of Sterilization,” Journal of Women’s History 13, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 132-56) to do a talk on sterilization in Winston-Salem. Many family members of victims showed up for the talk.
    Earl Smith

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  2. Jennifer Glass

    HI Philip. Johanna Schoen is a good friend of mine from my Iowa days if you ever want to find out more about the eugenics campaign in NC. She is the person whose dissertation brought this incredible story to light. She is at Rutgers now in their history dept.

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  3. vijay

    The article is an excellent example of the use of Godwin’s law: as in “North Carolina has an interesting profile with regard to historical travesties and crimes against humanity. The casual immigrant to the American South might be surprised that compared with, say, Germany’s official attitude toward the Holocaust, there is little in the way of official recognition that the Confederacy was wrong in the Civil War”.

    Is the civil war comparable with holocaust? Is either the civil war or the holocaust is even relevant to the sterilization program? If anything. NC is the only state that has promised to compensate the victims.

    Several states that had fought the civil war from the southern side did not have sterilization programs; but, California had the largest sterilization program.

    This blog entry could have worked perfectly without the application of Godwin’s law.

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  4. Pingback: Syllabus supplements for fall family sociology | Family Inequality

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