Apologies don’t suffice

Published 12:44 pm Monday, March 17, 2008

By Staff
(This editorial originally appeared in The Fayetteville Observer.)
In 2002, the history of North Carolina’s ghastly eugenics program was revealed to the public, and Gov. Mike Easley promptly offered deep apologies to the victims who were forcibly sterilized.
A few months later, he formed the Eugenics Study Committee to investigate how North Carolina should make amends to the women who were affected.
Then, five years passed and little else happened. The Legislature didn’t adopt the committee’s proposal to compensate the victims with financial reparations. The governor’s office didn’t wage a major push for lawmakers to get it done.
The lapse between apologies and atonement is shameful.
Eugenics was a dubious science based on the idea that undesirable women should not be allowed to have children. Across the country, more than 65,000 women were sterilized because they had developmental disabilities or mental illness. And because the discipline lacked any scientific method, poor and minority women were disproportionately affected. In North Carolina during the 1960s, most of the women sterilized were black.
Even worse, North Carolina continued to involuntarily sterilize women and teenage girls for decades after the practice had been discredited and discontinued in most of the country.
The state sterilized 7,600 women from 1929 to 1974. Today, plenty of them are still alive. Some are young, still in their 40s.
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore say they want to help those surviving victims. The two leading Democratic candidates for governor say that, if elected, they would put the weight of the office behind efforts to compensate sterilization victims.
Last week, Perdue released a plan to enact the Eugenics Study Committee’s 2003 suggestions as part of her campaign platform. Her plan would require the state to invest $500,000 to start a foundation that would identify survivors and determine who qualifies for compensation.
Perdue and Moore have put the spotlight back on a disgraceful program and the people who were permanently wronged. But no governor can create a reparations program without the support of the legislators who must make room for it in the state budget.
Lawmakers will push for reparations when they understand that North Carolina can’t make a clean break from the bad policy of the past without making amends to the people who continue to suffer consequences.