North Carolina’s bold model for eugenics compensation

BY PETER HARDIN AND PAUL LOMBARDO

In a landmark action, North Carolina legislators have voted to spend $10 million to compensate men and women sterilized under the state’s 20th century eugenics program.

After years of debate, the Republican-controlled legislature included the reparations in a $20.6 billion budget bill. When Gov. Pat McCrory signed it last month, North Carolina became the first state to earmark compensation for people who were forcibly sterilized.
By demonstrating moral authority in a time of budget constraints, North Carolina offered a bold model for Virginia to emulate. About 8,300 Virginians were sterilized involuntarily under state law between 1927 and 1979, surpassed only by California, with more than 20,000 sterilizations.

Last year, a North Carolina governor’s task force staked out the moral grounds for action by declaring, “The compensation package we recommend sends a clear message that we in North Carolina are a people who pay for our mistakes and that we do not tolerate bureaucracies that trample on basic human rights.”

Twelve years earlier, the Virginia General Assembly issued a statement of “profound regret” over “the incalculable human damage done in the name of eugenics.” Its action followed a series in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and other media coverage, about Virginia’s role in the forefront of the movement aimed at eradicating crime, poverty, disease and disability by controlling who could reproduce.

Gov. Mark R. Warner went further in 2002, issuing a full-throated apology during the 75th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Buck v. Bell ruling, which validated a Virginia law mandating sterilization for people who had been declared “socially inadequate.”

The Buck case endorsed the theory that social problems and personal defects were caused by heredity. It provided a legal anchor for operating on more than 60,000 Americans in more than 30 states in ensuing years.

The action by Warner, now a U.S. senator, triggered apologies in six other states, including North Carolina. After a 2002 series in the Winston-Salem Journal, a legislator there repeatedly proposed bills to compensate victims. Unlike most states, North Carolina stepped up its sterilization program after World War II. Despite revelations of eugenic practices in Nazi Germany, Virginia also sterilized almost as many people after the war as it had in earlier years.

Today, legislators in Raleigh are to be applauded for voting to “pay for … mistakes” of the past. Since dead people don’t cash checks, the bill will not bust the state’s treasury: About 7,600 men, women and children as young as 10 were sterilized in North Carolina, yet fewer than 200 surviving victims have been identified by the state so far. That means each victim would receive a modest compensation of about $50,000.

North Carolina has provided a beacon for Virginia. A dozen years ago, Virginia legislators didn’t go far enough by adopting a “profound regret” resolution for the 1924 eugenics law that “permitted involuntary sterilization, the most egregious outcome of the lamentable eugenics movement in the commonwealth.”

There is a permanent stain on Virginia’s record. Yet North Carolina has shown how the cost of addressing an egregious justice on an individual level can be fiscally and politically achievable. Before it’s too late, Virginia must retake the moral high ground and compensate its surviving victims of eugenic sterilization.

Peter Hardin wrote about Virginia and eugenics when he was Washington correspondent for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Paul Lombardo is a professor of law at Georgia State University and author of “Three Generations/No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell.” Contact Hardin at plhardin2013@gmail.com.

Original article can be found here: http://www.timesdispatch.com/opinion/their-opinion/north-carolina-s-bold-model-for-eugenics-compensation/article_10ed1912-b0ea-59b0-97d3-d69d6fff7203.html?mode=story

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