You may think that eugenics is the stuff of ancient history, a dark chapter of a distant past we'd like to forget. Targets in the United States included people in institutions, the "feeble-minded" and children of alcoholics. But it went on in the form of forced sterilization into the 1970s, and now one state proposes to right its governmental wrongs. North Carolina, which likely sterilized 7,000 people between 1929 and 1974, passed legislation on Thursday to give $10 million in compensation to victims, of whom only about 200 have yet come forward. Each victim would get about $50,000. If the governor signs the bill, North Carolina will become the first state to compensate such victims.
Charles Holt was 19 and living in an institution for boys in Butner, North Carolina when he was given a vasectomy without his consent.
"They sent me to the hospital and then they just put me in a room and she gave me gas and I just went off to sleep," Holt remembers.
When he awoke, the nurse told him what they'd done. "I wasn't happy," he said.
From 1907 through the 1970s, more than 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized. Some, like Holt, were in institutions, while others were deemed "feeble-minded" or had "unfit human traits." Others were children of alcoholics whose parents couldn't care for them.
Thirty-three states had forced sterilization programs. California's was the largest, sterilizing 20,000 people.
The programs were supported by some of the nation's most respected doctors, lawyers, and social workers. Even the U.S. Supreme Court approved it, as Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in one 1927 court case, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
Under the eugenics laws in North Carolina, anyone could request that someone could be sterilized. Fuller-Cooper remembers reading about neighbors who recommended sterilization because they thought a young woman was sexually promiscuous. A board would then consider the request.
If signed into law, payments are expected to be made in June, 2015.