North Carolina to compensate eugenics victims

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North Carolina will become the first state to compensate victims of its discredited eugenics programs, which was used extensively against people with disabilities into the 1970s, long after other states abandoned the practice.

With the state legislature passage of measure July 24, the state will set aside $10 million in next year’s budget for victims, according to the Charlotte Observer. The newly created Office of Justice for Sterilization Victims will oversee the fund.

“I hope this provides some closure to what I believe is one of the darkest chapters in the state’s history,” North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis told NBC news.

Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized 7,600 individuals. While most of the 32 states that had legalized the practice ended their programs after World War II, amid revelations regarding the Nazis’ barbaric use of the practice, North Carolina expanded its practice and continued it for three decades.

North Carolina’s eugenics practice was the nation’s most open ended. While other states programs were aimed at inmates or individuals who were institutionalized, the state eugenics program often recommended sterilization for individuals it classified as “feebleminded,” meaning that they were deemed improper for parenthood, which normally referred to people with mental disabilities, or who were poor and uneducated.

North Carolina was also the only state that allowed social workers to recommended individuals for sterilization, according to an article in Colorlines. Nationwide, more than 60,000 people were sterilized against their will in the U.S. during the 20th century.

Under the compensation fund, people sterilized without their consent by the N.C. Eugenics Board are eligible for compensation, according to the Charlotte Observer. If a person was a “competent adult” then the burden is on that person to rebut the presumption. The bill creates an appeals process for those deemed ineligible.

Claims to the fund must be filed by June 30, 2014 and payments must be made by June 30, 2015.

The amount of money will be divided equally among the number of recipients deemed eligible. An estimated 3,000 victims of the program remain alive today.

In 2002, the Winston-Salem Journal conducted an extensive investigation unveiling the horrors of the state’s eugenics program.

A panel created by former North Carolina Governor Bill Perdue recommended that victims receive $50,000 in compensation in 2012, after the state legislature held hearings where a dozen victims told their stories of how the state violated their rights of parenthood.

After the state house overwhelmingly approved the fund in 2012, the senate never gave consideration to the program and the legislative session ran out.

Now with the creation of the fund, victims of the program such as Rita Thompson Swords, a 73-year-old woman sterilized as 21-year-old as an unwed mother, will finally receive some measure of justice.

“I said, ‘Praise the Lord…I just can’t explain how tickled I am. I’d probably do cartwheels if I could,” Swords told the Charlotte Observer.