Compensating the victims of North Carolina’s forced-sterilization program

Jon Sanders

First highlighted by Daren Bakst, my friend and former colleague here at John Locke, North Carolina’s forced-sterilization program was a complete failure by all three branches of government to protect citizens. The legislature approved it, the executive branch implemented it, and the judiciary deemed it constitutional (the ruling in In Re Moore of 1976 is especially atrocious; it declared it the legislature’s “duty” to enact sterilization laws and “limit a class of citizens in its right to bear or beget children with an inherited tendency to mental deficiency, including feeblemindedness, idiocy, or imbecility,” so as to “protect the public and preserve the race from the known effects of the procreation”).

The eugenics program, which spanned five decades, from 1929 to 1977, was an idea pushed by “progressives” whose intent was to further human evolution by preventing “undesirables” from reproducing, leaving reproduction to “desirable” members of society. North Carolina wasn’t alone, as we were joined by 30 other states in an idea that also fascinated and occupied Nazi Germany.

North Carolina‘s forced-sterilization program began before the Nazis’, and it lasted longer — in fact, over three-fourths of the approximately 7,600 victims were sterilized after 1945. The eugenics campaign included campaign literature that would sicken anyone with a healthy appreciation of human rights and liberty. The appendices of Bakst’s report offer a couple of examples. For sheer creepiness, nothing beats the pupil-less blue eyes of what I dubbed “Baby Eugene” in the “You Wouldn’t Expect…” cartoon booklet of 1950. And then there is “The Lucky Morons” poem by Dr. Charles Gamble, a prominent member of the Human Betterment League of North Carolina, which concludes:

… And there weren’t any children’s
mouths to feed — although
they wouldn’t have
known why if
the operation hadn’t
been explained to them.
And with just the two in the
Family, they kept on
and they were very thankful they lived
DIDN’T have to feed them
and the SCHOOLS didn’t
have to waste their efforts on
any of their children who weren’t very bright.
And because they had been
STERILIZED, the taxpayers of
North Carolina had
and the North Carolina MORONS LIVED

As Bakst and others have argued, because the forced-sterilization program was a government-wide abuse of her own citizens by the State of North Carolina, it was incumbent upon the state to acknowledge its wrong and take steps to address it. Compensating the living victims of the forced-sterilization program is a proper response, but getting the state to that point hasn’t been easy. It was a late casualty of budget negotiations last year, for example.

Not this year. The state budget bill recently finalized sets aside $10 million in a reserve fund for compensating victims of the state’s forced-sterilization program, to be divided equally among qualified recipients. This compensation would be excluded from consideration as income, resources, or assets. Also, the state would guard the confidentiality of claimants, whether or not they are proven qualified to receive compensation.

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