May 16th, 2012

North Carolina Attempts to Compensate Eugenics Victims

On May 16, 2012, the North Carolina legislature considered a bill recommending compensation for victims of the state's forced sterilization program. Beginning in 1933, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina oversaw approximately 7600 forced sterilizations. In contrast with other eugenics programs in the United States, North Carolina's board enabled county departments of public welfare to petition for sterilization of their clients, including some girls as young as ten. According to board records, approximately 71% of sterilized women were said to be "feeble-minded." Distinct from the "mental disease" category, the so-called "feeble minded" included many women of color, poor women, and women from large families. Approximately 60% of the women sterilized against their will in North Carolina were African American.

In 1977, the North Carolina General Assembly repealed the laws authorizing the board's existence and ended the active sterilization program, but the involuntary sterilization laws that underpinned the board's operations were not repealed until 2003.

Twenty-five years after the sterilizations stopped, North Carolina Governor Michael Easley issued a formal apology to the victims in December 2002. In June 2012, however, the North Carolina Senate refused to support the compensation measure proposed by the House in May 2012 that set aside $10 million ($50,000 per victim) for compensation. The measure would have made North Carolina the first state to compensate eugenics victims.