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NC Eugenics Victims, Family Members Press For Compensation

A task force responsible for recommending compensation for victims of North Carolina's past eugenics laws is feeling the pressure of political realities. At a meeting Tuesday, the committee drew closer to a final recommendation - and got immediate, angry reaction from people who were sterilized by the state against their will. The five members of the Governor's Eugenics Compensation Task Force are all volunteers - there's a judge, a lawyer, a doctor, a journalist and a historian. And they're in a position few could envy. Task force chairwoman Dr. Laura Gerald sounded frustrated and weary at the end of yesterday's meeting. "It's clearly tough, and we're not gonna make any recommendations that will be universally accepted or approved," said Gerald. "We're doing the best we can." The task force members had just endured a bruising thirty minutes of reaction from victims and family members of those who were forced into sterilization by the state's Eugenics Board. The program was active until the mid-70s. Elaine Riddick was sterilized at age 14 in 1968. "It was worse than taking my arm or my leg," said Riddick. The task force won't make a final recommendation to the governor until February, but the members seem to be gravitating toward a compensation sum in the range of $20,000 to $50,000. "That's an insult to me," said Riddick. "That's an insult and yes, I'm angry." "I'm worth more than that," added Lela Dunston, who was 13 when the NC Eugenics Board ordered her sterilization. "Y'all got the money," said Dunston. "Y'all need to come up with more money than what you're coming up with cause $20,000, that aint no money." The task force also appears to be leaning toward only compensating living victims or those who came forward to have their eugenics records verified in the last eight years, but have since died. That essentially excludes people like Dahlresma Marks. Her grandmother Margaret Cheek died in 1999. Cheek had several children before she was forcibly sterilized. They have come forward, and Marks says any estate willing to do so, should qualify for compensation. "A victim is a victim, deceased or whatever," Marks told the task force. "Please consider all victims. Do not try to change what a victim is and what the state of North Carolina has done. Do not do that. A victim is a victim." The task force is in a painful spot. They say again and again that no amount of money can repair the wrongs of the Eugenics Board. But they're not the first to wrestle with the compensation question: similar committees have met for the last ten years on the topic - and as recently as 2008. Each time, lawmakers have failed to fund the recommendations. Current task force member Demetrius Worley Berry has similar fears. "We don't want this to be a task force meeting where we would have met, researched, studied and put all the hard work in for nothing to be done another 10 years later and there's another task force committee in place doing the same thing." For that reason, she recommends compensation of $20,000, limited to living victims or those who were alive at the time their records were verified in the archives. That could mean as much as $60 million if all 3,000 victims estimated to still be alive come forward. Thus far, only 68 have done so. State Representative Earline Parmon was on the legislative committee that recommended $20,000 for victims in 2008. She thought it was low then and still does. But, "unfortunately, to be able to get something done, we need to look at something that we can get 61 votes for and that's the reality," said Parmon. "I think to go in with an amount more than that will significantly decrease the chances of getting anything." The Governor's Eugenics Compensation Task Force plans to meet at least once more before making final recommendations in February. House Speaker Tom Tillis has pledged to have the legislature take up the compensation proposal when it convenes in May. More Information: NC Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation 1-877-550-6013