The Winston-Salem Journal's "Against Their Will" documentary, released in 2002, based in part on Joanna Schoen's research of the North Carolina Eugenics program, is credited with spurring public interest and demands for action to repeal laws and explore the possibility of compensation for affected people. This five part series gave extensive background to the work of the Eugenics Board, with detailed statistics, victim's stories, and historical information on the broader Eugenics movement in the United States in the Post-WWII era.
Then-Governor Mike Easley offered an apology to victims of the policy in 2002. At the time, North Carolina was the third State in the nation to officially apologize for eugenics practices, following behind Virginia and Oregon though North Carolina was the first State to go beyond a formal apology to actively considering compensation in some form. Easley set up a committee to study the history of the Eugenics Board with instructions to provide recommendations on how to handle what it termed 'program survivors'. The committee recommended five specific steps:
- Establishment of a Nonprofit foundation to help find and support survivors
- Institute an outreach program from state Department of Health and Human Services to assist in encouraging
- Create a panel to adjudicate any claims to ensure that applicants were indeed affected by the program
- Create a fund to provide healthcare for certified survivors
- Provide educational benefits through the North Carolina University and Community College system to survivors and survivors' caretakers
The recommendations lay dormant in the North Carolina Legislature until 2008, when a study committee was appointed. The House Committee gave its own recommendations which in large part mirrored Easley's committee's findings though it went further, in establishing a suggested dollar figure of $20,000 compensation per surviving victim. The House committee also recommended training, the creation of memorials, and documenting survivor experiences, and the creation of a database to store sterilization records for future research. While the House committee recommended setting funds aside for these purposes, the Legislature did not grant funding in 2008. The house committee was co-chaired by State Representative Larry Womble, who has been a public advocate in the state house for victim's compensation. Womble announced he would be stepping down and not seek re-election after a horrific car crash in late 2011.
In 2008, Beverley Perdue was elected Governor of North Carolina. As part of her platform she pledged to take up the sterilization situation. In 2010 Perdue issued an executive order that formed the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation (NCJSVF).
The Task Force was made up of the following:
- Dr. Laura Gerald MD MPH (Chair)
- Fetzer ‘Frank’ Mills JD, retired Superior Court judge
- Phoebe Zerwick MS, lecturer at Wake Forest University
- Lenwood G. Davis PHD, Professor of History at Winston-Salem State University
- Demetrius Worley Berry JD, Attorney, Brotherton Ford Yeoman Berry & Weaver, PLLC
The Foundation recommended that compensation be raised to $50,000 per victim, in a 3-2 vote. They also voted for funds for mental health services and historical displays and exhibits documenting the history of sterilization in the state. It is not yet clear how many victims will be satisfied by the amount; many have granted detailed interviews that documented their severe emotional trauma in the wake of the procedures, and have been outspoken in demanding higher sums.
On April 25, 2012, North Carolina's Gov. Perdue announced that she will put $10.3 million in her budget proposal to allocate towards issues surrounding eugenics. The funds are intended to aid with $50,000 payments to verified North Carolina eugenics victims. The remainder of the monies will be used to support the continued efforts of the NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation as they provide outreach and clearinghouse services to help Eugenics victims. Governor Perdue stated,We cannot change the terrible things that happened to so many of our most vulnerable citizens, but we can take responsibility for our state’s mistakes and show that we do not tolerate violations of basic human rights. We must provide meaningful assistance to victims, so I am including this funding in my budget.
Gov. Perdue's budget proposal is in accordance with the recommendations of the January 2012 final report issued from the Eugenics Compensation Task Force. The board suggested that living victims and those who were not deceased when verified by the foundation receive a tax-free, lump sum payment of $50,000. The N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation reports that there is still an increase in the number of confirmed/verified eugenics victims. As of April 25, 2012, 132 people in 51 counties had been matched to the North Carolina's Eugenics program records.
Read more about this topic: Eugenics Board Of North Carolina
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