Alex Constantine - September 5, 2012
NPR, August 17, 2012
North Carolina was poised to become the first state to compensate people who had been sterilized against their will under decades of eugenics laws. More than half of states had forced sterilization laws, but North Carolina's were particularly aggressive
A bill to pay the victims nearly passed in recent months. But "nearly" isn't enough for the victims who risked their reputations to go public with their stories.
Now they — and their advocates — wonder what comes next.
Few people have championed compensation for eugenics victims in North Carolina longer than John Railey. He writes editorials for the Winston-Salem Journal, but back in 2002, he was a reporter, standing out on the loading dock of the paper with his editor, who'd invited him out for a chat.
"And so, we're standing here and he's going, 'I got a really big story.' And I'm going like, 'What could you have?' And he said, 'What if I told you that our state had a forced sterilization program, and Winston-Salem was right in the thick of it?' And I'm just going, 'B.S.' "
But up in the dingy filing room where the paper keeps yellowed clippings of stories dating back to the 1940s, he learned the truth: Articles referring to people as "morons" whom the North Carolina Eugenics Board had "saved from parenthood"; editorials extolling the board's work.
"This program was always hiding in plain sight," Railey says. "And now I'm the editorial page editor of my paper, pushing for compensation of these folks that guys who sat in my chair back in the day pushed to have sterilized, for all intents and purposes."
A Compensation Effort
The North Carolina Eugenics Board sterilized more than 7,600 men, women and children, often merely because they were poor or mentally ill. It went on until the mid-1970s. But no one seemed to know about it until the Winston-Salem Journal published a series in late 2002. North Carolina's governor issued a formal apology. There was talk of compensating the victims....