Unfortunately, it’s not a very distant history.
Many people forget, or don’t even know that the Nazi Holocaust began with the forced sterilization of so-called “undesirables,” namely, the physically and mentally handicapped. What even more people don’t know is that before Hitler, the United States lead the world in the forced sterilization of these “unfit” human beings and was likely a major Nazi influence.
Most states ended their state-enforced sterilization in the 1940s, but North Carolina didn’t pick it up til sometime after the 40s, and there it peaked during the 1950s and 1960s, before ending in the ’70s. Because it was so late to the game, several of these eugenic victims are still alive today in NC and they have recently been asked to share their stories with a governor’s task force and to suggest ways of compensation.
Former Gov. Mike Easley apologized to the 7,600 victims in 2002, but none of them have been compensated in any way.
“I hope the victims feel free to share their stories and thoughts on what the state can do to compensate them for the injustice that was done to them,” task force member Phoebe Zerwick said.
“I think it’s important for us not to decide on a package or a figure on behalf of a group of people,” said Zerwick, a former reporter and editor at the Winston-Salem Journal and now a lecturer at Wake Forest University.
After listening to the victims, the task force will submit a report to state legislators, who will then decide whether and how to compensate them.
For more than four decades the Eugenics Board of North Carolina had the legal power to sterilize people it deemed unfit to be parents: the poor, undereducated, epileptic, mentally unstable, etc… It is nice to know that we are not in the practice of forced sterilization anymore in this country and I’d like to say that means our attitude towards the genetically or socially “inferior” has changed as well. But with the majority of children with Down syndrome aborted and pro-choice heavy hitters lamenting that not enough poor babies are being killed in the womb (all victims who will never get to share their stories or seek justice here on earth), I’m not so sure.
Although, I must say, we have made many good advancements in recent decades helping people with disabilities to become more active and involved in our communities and work-forces.