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June 22, 2012

Sen Jenkins: ‘The idea of Eugenics is horrible’

TARBORO — Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe) is disappointed a bill they co-sponsored which would provide compensation to victims who were forced to be sterilized, failed in the Senate and was not included in the state budget. Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe) also sponsored the bill. It passed in the House.

The sterilization program, which lasted from 1929 until 1974 and affected 7,600 persons in North Carolina, was aimed at creating a better society by weeding out people who were deemed “feeble-minded."  The majority of those targeted were poor women.

The sterilization effort reportedly escalated in from July 1946 to June 1968 and shifted to targeting poor, black women. During that time the North Carolina Sterilization Board involuntarily sterilized 5,364 persons, including 49 in Edgecombe County.

Supporters of eugenics believed that “defective” humans could be weeded out of the population. Scientists, however, discredited that assumption by the 1930s and most states ceased their programs.

In a 1969 court ruling against eugenics, a judge said many of the victims were threatened with a loss of welfare benefits unless they agreed to the sterilization.

"The idea of eugenics is horrible," Jenkins said. "The idea that the victims be compensated is a good idea. I was very disappointed (that it failed in the senate) and I will continue to seek the funding."

The house passed the bill that would have provided $50,000 to victims who were alive as of March 1, 2010. Many Republicans raised questions about the potential cost of providing $50,000 to each living victim and whether offering compensation would open the door to other groups of people to seek damages for previous misguided activities by the state.

The North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, an organization set up to help the victims, said it must end its work because its funding expires June 30. The organization reported it has verified 161 victims in 57 counties, including 146 of them still living. A spokeswoman for the organization said Thursday they don't know how many — if any — victims from Edgecombe County are alive.

Jenkins said he doesn't know any of the victims from his home county, either. The Tarboro native said he co-sponsored the original bill and he introduced a budget amendment to take $11 million out of tax credits to the wealthy to fund it.

"If I had the opportunity to talk with one of the victims, I would apologize to them on behalf of the whole state of North Carolina," Jenkins said.

North Carolina was the first state in the country to tackle the question of how much to give victims of the program.

Unlike most states, the North Carolina program expanded after World War II,

in 1969, the federal government began to fund sterilization operations under Medicaid. Four years later, the Southern Poverty Law Center sued.

A ruling by District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell a year later put numbers to the problem.

“Over the last few years, and estimated 100,000 to 150,000 low-income persons have been sterilized annually under federally funded programs,” Gesell wrote, adding that about 2,000 to 3,000 per year were under the age of 21, and about 300 were under the age of 18.

The judge said many of the victims were threatened with a loss of welfare benefits unless they agreed to the sterilization.

If you know anybody subjected to the sterilization, please contact The Daily Southerner staff writer Calvin Adkins at 823-3106 or email  HYPERLINK "mailto:cadkins@dailysoutherner.com" cadkins@dailysoutherner.com.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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