For the better part of five decades, between the 1920s and 1970s, 33 states removed or damaged the sexual organs of more than 60,000 Americans — a number that included unmarried women, blacks and the children from poor families. In North Carolina, about 7,600 residents were sterilized under legislation through the N.C. Eugenics Board.
In most cases, victims were often sterilized without their consent or knowledge. And for many, the states only needed to label those targeted for sterilization as feeble-minded, sexually promiscuous, delinquent, mentally deficient or unfit.
Bringing that large number closer to home, a total of 73 residents of Bladen County were sterilized.
Recently, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to approve a bipartisan bill authored by by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Tom Carper (D-DE) that would exclude payments from state eugenics compensation programs from consideration in determining federal benefits.
On Thursday, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee successfully agreed to send the bill out of committee and to the House floor for an upcoming vote.
“This legislation can never right the wrongs of the past, but I applaud my colleagues in both the Senate and House for their efforts to pass this bill and further increase the public’s awareness of the horrors and injustices of state-run eugenics and sterilization programs,” Tillis said. “I hope other states follow the lead of North Carolina and create their own eugenics compensation programs.”
In 2013, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to pass legislation to create a state fund to compensate the living victims of the state-run forced sterilization program. In 2014, more than 200 North Carolina victims were awarded their first compensation payment of approximately $20,000 each. Last month, victims began receiving their second eugenics compensation payments, worth an additional $15,000.
“Eugenics and sterilization programs are a dark part of our history,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). “We can’t go back in time and undo the damage that was done to the victims and their families. However, we can take the necessary steps to assist those who were affected, including on the state level to help these individuals.”
Should the bill receive support from the full House and go on to be signed into law by the president, as expected, it will help assist living eugenics victims receiving compensation payments by excluding their payments from being used in determining eligibility for, or the amount of, federal public benefits such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, and SSI-Disabled. Without this legislation, many eugenics victims who receive compensation payments could see their federal benefits reduced or even have their eligibility eliminated.
“I am very proud that we were able to get this done, and particularly with unanimous support out of the Senate, and I am very optimistic that it will move through the House,” Tillis said last week.
In surrounding counties, the number of residents sterilized under the program were: Robeson 75; Columbus 48; Sampson 56; Cumberland 89; Scotland 114.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.