ABOVE PHOTO: Elaine Riddick, right, and her son Tony Riddick shown in June 2011, listen during the Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation task force compensation hearing in Raleigh, N.C.
(AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)
By Hannington Dia
State House Speaker Thom Tillis said that the lawmakers’ vote to hand out $10 million in compensation was not easily reached. “There were challenges, we had to better educate our members — and then of course we had to work through the fiscal challenges — but at the end of the day, what we’ve done is something truly historic,” he said.
Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina forcibly sterilized thousands of men, women, and children — part of a larger eugenics movement that believed traits such as violence and alcoholism were genetic and could be removed.
Many of the victims were African-American and female, including Elaine Riddick. In 1967, a 13-year-old Riddick was raped and impregnated. The state had her sterilized immediately after she gave birth to a baby boy, with doctors cutting up and tying her Fallopian tubes.
She was never informed about the procedure.
“Got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that’s all I remember, that’s all I remember,” she said to NBC News during a profile story two years ago. “When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach.”
According to Riddick’s records, the state sterilized her because they saw her as “feebleminded” and “promiscuous.”
Riddick only found out she was sterile when a doctor in New York told her so six years later.
The state’s decision to pay the victims of the sterilization program was the right one, she says. “People need to know that injustice was done towards them and they need to be compensated for that,” Still, Riddick believes the money isn’t enough:
“People need to know that injustice was done towards them and they need to be compensated for that,” she added.
North Carolina became one of the first states to publicly apologize for the eugenics program in 2002. It was one of 31 states to have practiced the program.
Initially, the eugenics theory began as a program to control welfare spending on poor White women and men.
Eventually, however, the focus began shifting to women and Blacks; a third of the sterilizations were performed on underage girls, some of whom were as young as 9 years old.
Forty percent of the victims were non-White. Estimations place the number of people the state sterilized at 7,600. Of those, only 177 living victims have been identified.
“I hope this provides some closure to what I believe is one of the darkest chapters in the state’s history,” Tillis said.
The $10 million will be distributed starting in 2015. This is so that more victims will have time to come and collect compensation. Should a victim die, the compensation will go to their estate.