RALEIGH — Elaine Riddick was a frightened, pregnant 14-year-old in 1968 when her illiterate grandmother put an "X" on a piece of paper proffered by agents of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina.
That "X" authorized North Carolina to sterilize Riddick, just as the state did to 7,600 mostly poor men and women between 1929 and 1974.
Riddick, who now lives in Atlanta, plans to tell her story of how sterilization led to chronic medical problems, emotional trouble and failed marriages at a special governor's task force meeting this month.
"My grandmother was afraid that if she didn't sign the paper, they would cut off her benefits, like the canned food she got every week," Riddick said. "So she signed, without understanding what sterilization or tubal ligation really meant."
Many of those sterilized by state-sanctioned doctors were from poor families who didn't have the education or background to make such a major life decision, said Charmaine Fuller Cooper, director of the eugenics compensation task force.
Riddick, who grew up in Perquimans County, said her parents had already been deemed unfit to raise her, so she was sent to live at her grandmother's home, where she was raped and became pregnant.
She kept quiet about her ordeal for many years, but now feels comfortable speaking out and plans to ask the state to financially compensate her for taking away her right to have children after 1968.
Karen Beck's grandmother and great-aunt were sterilized in 1934 in Winston-Salem. Living at home with their mother and alcoholic father, the two girls were sent to foster care after their mother died, Beck said.
She said caseworkers persuaded their father to sign the sterilization order because of the "social and financial risk" of allowing them to have children.
Flossie Bates, Beck's grandmother, was sterilized at age 15 after being raped. Her sister, Dot, was sterilized at age 13 during what she was told was an appendectomy.
"My family is lucky in a way," Beck wrote in a letter she will present to the eugenics compensation board. "My grandmother's rape produced my mother, who in turn produced four children and several grand- and great-grandchildren. We are her legacy and the right the state stole from my great-aunt and countless others. I believe it is time for the state to apologize by compensating the remaining victims while they still live."