North Carolina’s eugenic past makes headlines again

This ran between 1933 and 1977 as a means of keeping welfare low, preventing poverty and enhancing the gene pool. Thirty-one other states had eugenics programs, and Virginia and California each sterilised more people than North Carolina. However, their programs were not as aggressive as North Carolina’s. While the state officially apologised in 2002, Governor Bev Perdue is grappling with the state’s obligation to the victims of the program.

A New York Times feature recounts the story of one man, 62-year-old Charles Holt, who was sterilised as a young adult. Government records state that after he showed violent behaviour at school as a teenager, he was sent to a state home for people with mental and emotional problems. In 1968, when he was ready to leave and begin life as an adult, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina decided that he should have a vasectomy. A social worker persuaded his mother.

Many others were selected for sterilisation, such as people with epilepsy and those too “feeble-minded” to raise children. They are now waiting to see the state’s decision on how much his lost fertility is worth. How much should they be paid? Is $20,000 per victim, as some have suggested, enough? North Carolina gave social workers the power to select people for sterilisation. The selection often depended on IQ tests, such as in Mr Holt’s case. About 70% of the North Carolina operations occurred after 1945, and many involved poor young women and racial minorities. 

“The state owes something to the victims,” said Governor Perdue, who campaigned on the issue. Her five-member task force has been discussing the issue since May. A final report is due in February. ~ New York Times, Dec 9


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