These minutes of an October 1950 meeting of the N.C. Eugenics Board summarize the decision to sterilize a Buncombe County woman who was deemed "feebleminded." Source: N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation website, http://www.sterilizationvictims.nc.gov.

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Editor’s note: This story originally appeared here, and is published on Carolina Public Press through a content-sharing agreement with The Charlotte Observer.

For more on the state-sponsored sterilization program, read Carolina Public Press’ reports:

By Tommy Tomlinson, ttomlinson@charlotteobserver.com

RALEIGH–Victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program focused their anger Tuesday at a state task force trying to decide how to compensate people who were sterilized under a program that lasted 45 years.

The two big issues: how much the state should pay, and whether the families of victims who have died should qualify.

The task force, which has to send a report to the governor in February, didn’t make any final decisions Tuesday. But members did establish the amount of $20,000 per victim as a starting point to discuss compensation. And they talked about limiting the payouts to living victims only, with minor exceptions.

That upset victims and family members in the audience. Among the group was Janice Black, a Charlotte woman who was sterilized at 18 by the state in 1971 after her family decided she wasn’t fit to have children. Black later helped to raise the children of other family members.

Sadie Long, Black’s longtime guardian, spoke for her.

“I think it is an insult, the amount you’re trying to come up with,” Long said. “You all need to reconsider.”

Elaine Riddick also spoke out. Riddick, from the small town of Winfall in Eastern North Carolina, was sterilized at age 14 when she became pregnant after being raped.

“It was worse than taking my arm or my leg,” she said. “What is $20,000 going to do for me? What is $50,000 going to do for me? Is that going to get me back what North Carolina eugenics took from me?”

Task force members said they know the money isn’t adequate. But they said they’re trying to come up with an amount that the legislature will approve in tough financial times. The state estimates that 1,500 or more victims of the eugenics program are still alive. If each one got $20,000 from the state, that would come to $30 million or more. The legislature would have to approve any compensation.

Between 1929 and 1974, the N.C. Eugenics Board authorized the sterilization of about 7,600 North Carolina residents – some as young as 10. In many cases, people were sterilized because of low IQs or family poverty. Mecklenburg County, under welfare director Wallace Kuralt, sterilized by far the most people of any N.C. county.

The Observer obtained summaries of 548 county sterilization cases that have been sealed by the state. They include 430 brought by the Welfare Department – some that predate Kuralt – and 118 involving Mecklenburg residents in state mental hospitals and institutions for the retarded. They date from 1937 to 1966. All told, the department got sterilization orders for 54 children 16 and younger. The youngest was a 10-year-old girl with a mental age of 4 who had begun menstruating the year before.

The board met three days after its biggest advocate, Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, was injured in a car wreck that killed one driver. He remains in critical but stable condition at a Winston-Salem hospital. The task force is tentatively scheduled to meet again Jan. 10.

On Tuesday, Janice Black sat quietly through the meeting. But she stood when Sadie Long tapped her shoulder. They woke up early to drive to Raleigh. They wanted to be sure the task force put faces with the names and numbers in their reports.

“I wanted you all,” Long said, “to be able to see who Janice Black is.”

The Associated Press contributed.

The Charlotte Observer

The Charlotte Observer is one of North Carolina's leading news organizations. It offers regional, state and local news in a daily newspaper and online at www.charlotteobserver.com.

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