State Politics

Families of NC eugenics victims no longer alive still have shot at compensation

Documents on the victims of the N.C. Eugenics Board sit in the North Carolina State Archives.
Documents on the victims of the N.C. Eugenics Board sit in the North Carolina State Archives.

Editor’s Note: Since publication, the N&O has learned that passages from this story were taken in large part or in whole from “Sterilized by North Carolina, she felt raped once more” by the Los Angeles Times without attribution. This is a violation of our standards. We apologize to our readers.

Families of people who were involuntarily sterilized by the state, and then died before decisions were made about who would be compensated by the state, got a bit of good news on Friday.

The legislature approved money as compensation in 2013 but required the payments to go to surviving victims. The N.C. Supreme Court issued a ruling Friday that put the question of that limitation back before the state Court of Appeals for further review.

Families of victims of the forced sterilization who had died before the decision was made have argued that limiting the payments to the living was an arbitrary decision.

While the Friday ruling means those families still have a shot at whatever they can get from the $10 million set aside several years ago by the legislature, those awaiting final payments might have to wait longer.

It was not immediately clear when the state Court of Appeals would take up the cases again.

More than 200 living victims received $20,000 each in 2014 and another $15,000 each in 2015.

In 2016, though, when many were expecting another $8,000, they heard from state officials that they would not get the money until the court decisions in the cases filed by the relatives of non-surviving victims had been heard.

The payments were halted, state officials have said, so they know how many people are eligible for the remaining funds.

Between 1929 and 1974, nearly 7,600 people were sterilized under orders from North Carolina’s Eugenics Board. Nearly 85 percent of those were women or girls, some as young as 10.

The board’s declared goal was to purify the state’s population by weeding out the mentally ill, diseased, feeble-minded and others deemed undesirable.

In a 1950 pamphlet, the Human Betterment League of North Carolina said the board was protecting “the children of future generations and the community at large,” adding that “you wouldn’t expect a moron to run a train or a feebleminded woman to teach school.”

The pamphlet went on: “It is not barnyard castration!”

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1