A governor’s task force voted Tuesday to recommend paying $50,000 each to survivors who were sterilized under North Carolina’s eugenics program.
The legislature will have to approve any payments. If that happens, North Carolina will be the first state to compensate victims of programs that sterilized tens of thousands of poor, sick and mentally challenged people across the country.
The N.C. Eugenics Board approved sterilizing about 7,600 people between 1929 and 1974. The state expanded its program in the ‘40s and ‘50s, even as other states ended or reduced theirs because of the eugenics connection to Nazi Germany in World War II. Mecklenburg County, under longtime welfare director Wallace Kuralt, sterilized more people than any other N.C. county by far. Dr. Laura Gerald, chairwoman of the task force, said her group wanted to send a message: “We in North Carolina are people who pay for our mistakes.”
Legislators and advocates have been pushing for compensation for a decade. But the idea got traction last year after Gov. Bev Perdue formed the task force and created a state office to track down victims. The state estimates that 1,500 to 2,000 are still alive. As of Tuesday, only 72 had come forward and been verified. Officials expect that number to grow now that a specific recommendation is on the table.
Some cases approved by the Eugenics Board were people who were mentally ill and sexually aggressive, and families who wanted to stop having children.
But the board also authorized sterilizing people who were poor, or part of large families, or whose parents worried that men might take advantage of them. Some victims were as young as 10.