TAR HEEL VIEW: Victims of state sterilization should be payed


For almost two years now, victims of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program who qualified for compensation have been waiting for their third and final payment. With almost all appeals exhausted, that time may rightly be here.

From the Great Depression through the fall of Nixon, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, in one of the most aggressive programs in the country, rendered barren more than 7,600 men, women and children. The board, often acting on flimsy evidence, determined these people were mentally or physically deficient.

The 2002 Journal investigative series “Against Their Will” lifted the curtain on the brutal inner workings of the program. Former state Rep. Larry Womble of Winston-Salem long fought for compensation, as did the Journal editorial board. Victims who have suffered from mental and physical pain from their sterilizations told their stories on our opinion pages.

The state legislative approved compensation in 2013, the first in the nation to do so. Virginia followed suit, and other states are likely to compensate as well.

The North Carolina delay has been caused by appeals from heirs of victims who did not qualify for compensation. But Thursday, a key lawyer for those survivors, Elizabeth Haddix, told the Journal in an email that “Our clients have decided not to seek further review by the N.C. Supreme Court. Although the forced sterilization of their loved ones hurt them personally and impacted their lives forever, their goal has always been to honor their loved ones, whose most fundamental rights were violated by the state’s eugenics program. They have honored them with these appeals.”

The legislature should consider whether these heirs should be compensated. Heirs whose cases met a legal timeframe set up by the legislature are being compensated, as are living victims.

Now, the most important thing is for the state to get the qualified victims their final payment, which should bring their total compensation to more than $40,000 each. No amount of money can ever replace what the state, playing God, took. But money is one big way we admit wrongdoing and settle scores in this country. The final payment should go out soon.

The Winston-Salem Journal

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