Sterilization Compensation Committee Recommends $50,000
The task force meeting. (L tor R) Phoebe Zerwick, Lenwood Davis, Laura Gerald (chairwoman), Fetzer Mills, Demetrius Worley Berry. North Carolina had one of the most aggressive eugenic sterilization programs in the country - right up until the mid-1970s. On Tuesday, North Carolina took a step toward doing more than any other state to compensate the people who were sterilized against their will. A task force appointed by Governor Perdue recommended victims receive $50,000 compensation. For more than 25 years, Elaine Riddick has fought for money from the state of North Carolina, but when she learned she may receive $50,000, she just sounded tired. "I just want it to be over. I just want it to be over," she says. Elaine Riddick (victim) and her son Tony. Through tears Riddick once again told of how she was sterilized at 14, just after giving birth to her only son. It was 1968 and the North Carolina Eugenics Board declared her unfit for parenthood. Why? Because she lived in poverty and had poor hygiene. Riddick didn't realize the delivery doctor had sterilized her until she was 19, newly-married and eager to get pregnant again. She was one of the first North Carolina eugenics victims to come forward. She sued for a million dollars and lost. $50,000 is hardly enough, she says. "You just have to accept it," Riddick says. "And with the mental health benefits, I think I will be able to get the help I need to get over this." Riddick and other victims say they've suffered depression, alcoholism and suicidal thoughts as a result of sterilization. Psychological counseling is another recommendation from a task force created by the governor to look at compensating eugenics victims. Janice Black was 14 when social workers labeled her "feeble-minded" and recommended sterilization. Today Black is 59. She says $50,000 is "chump change." Janice Black (victim on right) and her caretaker Sadie Long. "That's my opinion, it's chump change. Still - no amount of money is gonna (Can't) gonna give back what was already taken from ya." The committee of five volunteers spent months listening to victims and wrestling with how much to pay the more than 2,000 estimated to still be alive. Perdue sent staff member Meghan Brown to the final meeting of the Eugenics Task Force with that message. "Governor Perdue knows that monetary compensation will never be sufficient. Nevertheless she encourages each of you to establish meaningful compensation for victims to serve as clear notice that North Carolina will not tolerate such practices ever again," Brown says. The recommendation of $50,000 is now in the hands of Perdue and state lawmakers who continue to struggle with tight budgets. That political reality led the task force to not recommend compensation for the families of sterilization victims who have already died. That means Australia Clay and her sister would get nothing. "We took care of our mother. Our mother came home, they sent us home what was left. We took care of her. Otherwise, my mother has been sterilized involuntarily for nothing." North Carolina was hardly alone: almost three dozen states had eugenic sterilization laws. To date only seven have formally apologized, and none have paid any money to victims. If North Carolina lawmakers do as the task force suggests, their state will have gone further than any other to make amends. Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis say he will work to make that happen this year.