N.C. Considers Paying Forced Sterilization Victims

Elaine Riddick sits with her son, Tony Riddick, at a hearing before a state panel in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday.
Enlarge Jim R. Bounds/AP

Elaine Riddick sits with her son, Tony Riddick, at a hearing before a state panel in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday.

Elaine Riddick sits with her son, Tony Riddick, at a hearing before a state panel in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday.
Jim R. Bounds/AP

Elaine Riddick sits with her son, Tony Riddick, at a hearing before a state panel in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday.

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June 22, 2011 from WFAE

Barely 40 years ago, it wasn't uncommon for a single mother on welfare, or a patient in a mental hospital in North Carolina, to be sterilized against her will.

But North Carolina wasn't alone: More than half of states in the U.S. had eugenics laws, some of which persisted into the 1970s.

North Carolina is now considering compensating its sterilization victims. A state panel heard from some of them Wednesday. They were mostly poor and uneducated — both black and white — and often just girls when it happened.

'They Cut Me Open Like I Was A Hog'

Elaine Riddick says she was sterilized at the age of 14. The state of North Carolina said Riddick was promiscuous and didn't get along well with others.

"I couldn't get along well with others because I was hungry. I was cold. I was a victim of rape," Riddick says.

Eugenics In North Carolina

Tell Me More host Michel Martin speaks with retired psychologist Mary Kilburn, who administered IQ tests on those deemed appropriate for sterilization.

Pregnant from that rape, Riddick gave birth to her only son in 1968. During the C-section, doctors sterilized her. A consent form shows the "X" mark of her illiterate grandmother. Riddick didn't know she'd been sterilized until she was 19, married and ready to have more children. She's now 57 and shared her story — through tears — at a hearing of state officials Wednesday in Raleigh.

"I have to get out what the state of North Carolina did to me," Riddick says. "They cut me open like I was a hog."

Nearly 7,600 men, women and children as young as 10 were sterilized under North Carolina's eugenics laws. While other state sterilization laws focused mainly on criminals and people in mental institutions, North Carolina was one of the few to expand its reach to women who were poor. Sterilization was seen as a way to limit the public cost of welfare. Social workers would coerce women to have the operation under threat of losing their public assistance. That's how 65-year-old Nial Ramirez lost her ability to have more children. She was too ill to attend the hearing, but sent her daughter, Deborah Chesson, with a letter to read:

I have to get out what the state of North Carolina did to me. They cut me open like I was a hog.

"At the young age of 17, I was pregnant with my daughter Deborah, living in a household with my mom and my siblings. My mother was a single mom and times were tough, so we were on public assistance, just trying to survive. I was told that if I continued to have children, the livelihood of my family would suffer greatly."

The North Carolina Eugenics Board was created in 1933 and operated for decades with little public scrutiny. It used rudimentary IQ tests and gossip from neighbors to justify sterilization of young girls from poor families who hung around the wrong crowd or didn't do well in school. Girls like 13-year-old LeLa Dunston, who had just had a baby. Dunston is now 63.

"I need a reward or something — some kind of compensation for all this that they done put me through," she says.

'You Are Not Forgotten'

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue has now appointed a task force to consider compensating victims. In 1974, the Eugenics Board was disbanded, and the state formally apologized in 2002. Six other states have issued similar apologies, but none has compensated victims.

If North Carolina lawmakers decide to pay victims, it could be costly. While the number of sterilizations in other states slowed down after the Nazi atrocities of World War II came to light, North Carolina's eugenics program ramped up. An estimated 3,000 victims are still living and could qualify for compensation. North Carolina state Rep. Larry Womble is a key driver of the state's effort to make amends:

"We have done some things that we should have never have done before," he says. "And I'm glad that some of them are living long enough to see that something is being done — you are not forgotten."

The North Carolina eugenics task force will make a preliminary recommendation on compensating victims in August.


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Kyle Hale (KyleHale)

Kyle Hale (KyleHale) wrote:

@S Johnson: How disingenuous can you be? Those Dixiecrats up and jumped to the Republican Party as soon as LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act and never looked back. To say that the South Carolina Democrat Party of the 1940s and 50s was the same party as today is like pointing out Lincoln was a Republican: the man wouldn't even recognize his faction today.

Mon Jun 27 2011 17:43:49 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

Cynthia Kaminski (thinkglobalactlocalchic)

Cynthia Kaminski (thinkglobalactlocalchic) wrote:

I mentioned Planned Parenthood in my post and I am now seeing comments about its origins. I would just like to say that the Planned Parenthood of today is much different than the planned parenthood of the past. I advocate the efforts of today's Planned Parenthood. If the mission had never changed then I would NOT support it, but as it stands I do support it.

Sun Jun 26 2011 12:27:37 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

Cynthia Kaminski (thinkglobalactlocalchic)

Cynthia Kaminski (thinkglobalactlocalchic) wrote:

I find it odd that the argument this spurred seems to teeter between defending the state and defending the victims of the state. These people were victims plain and simple. What I find most curious is that our reaction to the poor, uneducated, and mentally ill (then and today) is one of disgust and dismissal instead of compassion and outreach. We should be motivated by this story to demand an increase in funding for education (both academically and in terms of sex ed.) and access to health care for all members of our society. A great entity that provides low cost health care, sex education, and access to various form of birth control is Planned Parenthood, because let’s face it abstinence-only is an irresponsible pipe dream method of birth control. But again my main point on commenting is to advocate compassion and outreach instead of dismissal and disgust for our fellow citizens. The economic level and situation you are born into is a result of chance/luck, not a reflection of what you deserve, so why do we treat people as though they deserve to be in a bad situation?? Compassion and Outreach Please People.

Sun Jun 26 2011 12:08:00 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

Margaret Easter (justme1218)

Margaret Easter (justme1218) wrote:

I agree with MorrisTN

Vote YES for sterilization!

If you are on welfare you cannot support yourself therefore you cannot support a child. If your circumstances improve - there is always adoption.

Sat Jun 25 2011 17:32:43 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

L C (Abaisse)

L C (Abaisse) wrote:

Steve O, I'm not sure what Planned Parenthood you're talking about, but most of their locations don't even offer abortions. Perhaps your comment was not intended to be a factual statement.

Mystery meat, I agree with you, but why is 2.5 an ideal number of children? For that matter, how do we even determine what an "ideal" number is? I believe 2.5 is merely an average.

Sat Jun 25 2011 11:39:38 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

Lynn S (fact_or_opinion)

Lynn S (fact_or_opinion) wrote:

Steve O wrote:
"what they [Planned Parenthood] do is abortion. That is their focus. ... I really don't think that's controversial."

You're mistaken about abortion being "their focus." Here's a percentage breakdown of the services they provide:
(Note: this downloads as a pdf; if you want to view it online w/out downloading it, just do a search for the URL and then choose "quick view.")

mark forsur wrote:
"This sort of thinking was more prevalent than one might think. Science czar, John Holdren, wrote in his book ...
"I understand we need the free flow of ideas in an academic setting, so the man is free to brainstorm, but should he be anywhere near an actual lever?"

I have no idea what "lever" you're referring to, but here's a fuller discussion of the section of the book containing the quote you excerpted:

@Ray Mailhot:

Thanks for alerting us to more of the legal background that enabled laws like the one in NC. Shameful. I can only hope it's true that "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Thu Jun 23 2011 23:38:24 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

Steve O (Steve_O)

Steve O (Steve_O) wrote:

"the whole problem here is a matter of resource disparity... period."

-- mystery meat, that's why Planned Parenthood operates most of their abortion clinics in poor minority neighborhoods. And despite your fantasy about them operating education and health clinics, what they do is abortion. That is their focus. The stuff that you mention is window dressing. I really don't think that's controversial.

Thu Jun 23 2011 22:13:57 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

mark forsur (markitis)

mark forsur (markitis) wrote:

This sort of thinking was more prevalent than one might think. Science czar, John Holdren, wrote in his book published in 1977, [i]Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment[/i], on page 786:

[i]A program of sterilizing women after their second or third child, despite the relatively greater difficulty of the operation than vasectomy, might be easier to implement than trying to sterilize men.[/i]

I understand we need the free flow of ideas in an academic setting, so the man is free to brainstorm, but should he be anywhere near an actual lever?

Thu Jun 23 2011 21:32:05 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

Susan Stephens (Orual)

Susan Stephens (Orual) wrote:

This isn't an easy issue is it?

Thu Jun 23 2011 19:49:37 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)

Ray Mailhot (RayMailhot)

Ray Mailhot (RayMailhot) wrote:

Ray Mailhot (RayMailhot) wrote:
Buck v. Bell legitimized eugenic sterilization laws in the United States, the ruling was written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. In support of his argument that the interest of the states in a "pure" gene pool outweighed the interest of individuals in their bodily integrity.

When the issue of compulsory sterilization was brought up at the Nuremberg trials after the war, many Nazis defended their actions on the matter by indicating that it was the United States itself from whom they had taken inspiration.

Forced sterilization has been recognized as crime against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systematic practice by the Rome Statute Explanatory Memorandum, which defines the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.


It makes you wonder what the future will think of us? And the people that think maybe it wasn't such a bad idea, well enjoy the company you keep!

Thu Jun 23 2011 19:33:07 GMT-0500 (Central Daylight Time)


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