North Carolina Moves to Compensate Eugenics Program Victims
Elaine Riddick Feels Violated All Over Again. After enduring a lifetime of humiliation and regret, she can barely control her outrage. The $50,000 now offered to her only makes her angrier. Elaine Riddick was only 14 when North Carolina’s State’s Eugenics Board decided that she was not capable of mothering children and forcibly sterilized her by cauterized her fallopian tubes. Nearly 44 years later, the state of North Carolina has proposed compensate Riddick and other victims of its eugenics program $50,000 each. Between 1929 and 1974, nearly 7,600 people were sterilized under orders from North Carolina’s Eugenics Board. Nearly 85% were women or girls, some as young as 10. The state estimates that 1,500 to 2,000 of the victims are still alive. To its credit, North Carolina is the first state to consider compensation for victims of forced sterilization According to most estimates, there are at likely 65,000 victims of forced sterilization in at least 30 states. This figure does not include the forced sterilization of Native American Women under the care of the Native American Health Care System.
Reporting from Raleigh, N.C. — Elaine Riddick was a confused and frightened 14-year-old. She was poor and black, the daughter of alcoholic parents in a segregated North Carolina town. And she was pregnant after being raped by a man from her neighborhood.
Riddick’s miserable circumstances attracted the attention of social workers, who referred her case to the state’s Eugenics Board. In an office building in Raleigh, five men met to consider her fate — among them the state health director and a lawyer from the attorney general’s office.
Board members concluded that the girl was “feebleminded” and doomed to “promiscuity.” They recommended sterilization. Riddick’s illiterate grandmother, Maggie Woodard, known as “Miss Peaches,” marked an “X” on a consent form.
Hours after Riddick gave birth to a son in Edenton, N.C., on March 5, 1968, a doctor sliced through her fallopian tubes and cauterized them.
“They butchered me like a hog,” recalls Riddick, now a poised and determined woman of 57.
Nearly 44 years later, the state of North Carolina has proposed paying $50,000 each to compensate Riddick and other victims of its eugenics program. It’s the first state to consider compensation for victims of forced sterilization — up to 65,000 in at least 30 states, according to most estimates.
Between 1929 and 1974, nearly 7,600 people were sterilized under orders from North Carolina’s Eugenics Board. Nearly 85% were women or girls, some as young as 10. The state estimates that 1,500 to 2,000 of the victims are still alive.
The board’s declared goal was to purify the state’s population by weeding out the mentally ill, diseased, feebleminded and others deemed undesirable.
In a 1950 pamphlet, the Human Betterment League of North Carolina said the board was protecting “the children of future generations and the community at large,” adding that “you wouldn’t expect a moron to run a train or a feebleminded woman to teach school.”
The pamphlet went on: “It is not barnyard castration!”
Riddick has endured a lifetime of humiliation and regret. She can barely control her outrage when she discusses what the state did to her — and what the state proposes by way of compensation and apology.