‘They cut me like a hog’: victims of North Carolina eugenic sterilizations speak out
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina, November 7, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Individuals deemed “feeble-minded” or otherwise unfit for having children during North Carolina’s decades-long eugenics program have recently re-emerged in the media as state officials try to track down surviving victims in order to provide compensation.
Officials estimate that at least 1,500 of an estimated 7,600 individuals sterilized between 1929 and 1974 are still alive. However, only 48 have been found.
The victims, both men and women, were all deemed mentally ill, epileptic, or simply “feeble-minded,” and therefore unfit to have children.
In a Monday article, MSNBC outlined the story of Elaine Riddick, an African-American woman who was forcibly sterilized over 40 years ago after she was raped at the age of 13.
“Got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that’s all I remember, that’s all I remember,” Riddick said. “When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach.”
Doctors had cut Riddick’s fallopian tubes immediately after her only child, conceived in rape, was born. She didn’t find out what had happened until she got married six years later, and discovered she couldn’t have children. A New York doctor told her she had been “butchered.”
“My heart bleeds every single day. I’m crushed,” she said. “They cut me open like I was a hog.”
Gov. Bev Perdue, who says she has convened a “eugenics task force” to pursue means of compensation, called the stories of those forcibly sterilized “horrific.” “You can’t rewind a watch or rewrite history. You just have to go forward and that’s what we’re trying to do in North Carolina,” she said.
That chapter in North Carolina’s history is surprisingly near: while the eugenics board was disbanded in the late 1970s, the law allowing involuntary sterilization was still in effect until 2003, when Gov. Mike Easley spearheaded its repeal and apologized to victims. But even today, according to a Charlotte Observer article about another African-American victim, a child can be sterilized by parents petitioning a judge as “the last resort.”
However, North Carolina was not the only state in the country that implemented such eugenics programs. By the 1960s, tens of thousands of Americans had been sterilized under government-run eugenics programs, which were in effect in 31 states.
The news about the North Carolina effort to compensate victims emerged only days after a national media firestorm erupted after top GOP presidential contender Herman Cain, himself African-American, pointed out the racist-eugenic roots of Planned Parenthood and its founder Margaret Sanger.
Sanger explicitly advocated birth control as a way to cleanse humanity of unwanted bloodlines. While Sanger focused on eliminating the poor and criminals, the famous eugenicist also specifically targeted African-American communities for birth control distribution in an operation known as the “Negro project.”
Several “fact checkers” with the Washington Post and other outlets claimed to have found “no evidence” that Sanger aimed at “preventing black babies from being born,” as stated by Cain, but paradoxically admitted Sanger’s interest in promoting a race of “thoroughbreds” in keeping with popular eugenicist thought at the time. One Politifact article conceded that “Sanger welcomed some of the [eugenics] movement’s more notorious leaders onto the board of a predecessor to Planned Parenthood,” but explained the Negro project as simply “a public health project.”