The North Carolina Eugenics Board was created in 1933 and operated for decades with little public scrutiny. It used rudimentary IQ tests and gossip from neighbors to justify sterilization of young girls from poor families.
Many people don’t realize that portions of the U.S. South had eugenics programs that operated through the 1970s. NPR reports on some horrifying fairly-recent history:
Barely 40 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for a single mother on welfare, or a patient in a mental hospital in North Carolina, to be sterilized against her will.
But North Carolina wasn’t alone: More than half of states in the U.S. had eugenics laws, some of which persisted into the 1970s.
North Carolina is now considering compensating its sterilization victims. A state panel heard from some of them Wednesday. They were mostly poor and uneducated — both black and white — and often just girls when it happened.
Elaine Riddick says she was sterilized at the age of 14. The state of North Carolina said Riddick was promiscuous and didn’t get along well with others. “I couldn’t get along well with others because I was hungry. I was cold. I was a victim of rape,” Riddick says.
Nearly 7,600 men, women and children as young as 10 were sterilized under North Carolina’s eugenics laws. While other state sterilization laws focused mainly on criminals and people in mental institutions, North Carolina was one of the few to expand its reach to women who were poor. Sterilization was seen as a way to limit the public cost of welfare.
The North Carolina Eugenics Board was created in 1933 and operated for decades with little public scrutiny. It used rudimentary IQ tests and gossip from neighbors to justify sterilization of young girls from poor families who hung around the wrong crowd or didn’t do well in school.
If North Carolina lawmakers decide to pay victims, it could be costly. While the number of sterilizations in other states slowed down after the Nazi atrocities of World War II came to light, North Carolina’s eugenics program ramped up. An estimated 3,000 victims are still living and could qualify for compensation.
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