A ghastly scar on North Carolina’s history is the forced sterilization of nearly 7,600 people from 1929 to 1974, under the guide of the state Eugenics Board. The unfortunate thinking on the part of the state was that it was good policy to prevent people it defined as “feeble-minded” or “undesirable” from having children.
That was a heinous and preposterous notion, and thanks to some state legislators, including then House Speaker now U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and current Rep. Paul Stam of Apex (both Republicans), North Carolina moved to compensate survivors, setting aside $10 million in 2013. But there was a gap in the program. Victims were eligible only if they had been sterilized by the order of the state. County governments also performed sterilizations, however, and some have moved to create their own compensation programs. Victims of the state program could collect $50,000.
Now, Stam has rightly moved to allow the state’s four largest counties to pay victims. “They slipped through the cracks in our bill there,” Stam said. “We didn’t realize that in some cases this was by the county.”
Stam believes the overwhelming percentage of people who would stand to benefit will come from the state’s largest counties. But it’s possible the state would need to do something for smaller counties that ordered sterilizations but can’t now afford to pay victims.
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Stam and other lawmakers who join him are due credit for trying to do something for people who were the state’s innocent victims. They can never be adequately compensated. But the latest effort represents a forthright attempt at fairness.