Monday, December 22, 2008

NC panel recommends reparations for victims of forced sterilization

From the Associated Press:

Raleigh, North Carolina - North Carolina lawmakers pushed Thursday to offer reparations to thousands of victims of a forced sterilization program now recognized as a shameful part of U.S. history.

A state House panel recommended the state give $20,000 to victims of the eugenics program, which sterilized about 7,600 people between 1929 and 1975 who were considered to be mentally handicapped or genetically inferior. Though North Carolina and several other states have apologized for such programs, none have offered reparations.

"Yes, it is ugly. It's not something that we're proud of," said state Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, who has been working on the issue for several years. "But I'm glad that North Carolina has done more than any other state to step forward and not run away from it."

Lawmakers in the full General Assembly will have to approve the idea. They convene next month.

Illinois was the first state to offer a eugenics program in 1907 as social reformers advocated for a way to cleanse society of the mentally handicapped and mentally ill. Many states curtailed their sterilizations after World War II, recognizing it was similar to the actions taken by Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany.

North Carolina, however, moved ahead aggressively after the war, conducting about 80 percent of procedures after 1945 and growing the program to be the third largest in the nation, behind only California and Virginia.

Most of those sterilized in the 1960s were poor black women.

Willis Lynch, 75, of Littleton was one of the victims. He went through forced sterilization at the age of 14 - not knowing at the time what was happening - and was later frustrated by it.

"I always wanted kids. I love kids," said Lynch, who married a woman with two children. "You wish you could have kids of your own."

He praised the state for finally recognizing its mistake 60 years after he went through the procedure. The bills approved by the committee also suggest providing counseling, creating a historical marker and including information about the eugenics program in public school curriculum.

Rep. Ronnie Sutton, the Democratic chairman of the study committee, said because of the nation's lagging economy, it may not be possible to fully fundthe compensation program with an estimated $18 million that would be needed to cover all surviving victims.

"Anything with money is going to have a hard road to hoe," Sutton said. He suggested that lawmakers may consider funding some of the program in the upcoming session to get it started and finish allocating money at a later date.