Forsyth County ranked sixth in the state in counties that performed authorized sterilizations from 1946 to 1968, according to statistics released this week by the N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundations.
While data from early years of the N.C. Eugenics Board’s sterilization program reflect inconsistent record keeping, reports from the program’s most active years indicate that Mecklenburg County had by procedures, according to a news release.
The issue gained broad public awareness after the Winston-Salem Journal published a series in December 2002 about the little-known program, which aimed to prevent people with mental disabilities or other maladies from having children. Most of those who were sterilized were poor and were determined to be mentally disabled by flawed tests. The series led to an apology by then-Gove. Mike Easley to victims of sterilization and, eventually, to legislative action.
Sterilizations performed under the state’s most direct sterilization laws began in 1929. Four years later, the legislature created the NC Eugenics Board which authorized nearly 7,600 sterilizations before the board’s abolition in 1977. The post-World War II years through the 1960s account for about 70 percent of sterilizations, said Charmaine Fuller Cooper, executive director of the foundation.
The state established the foundation in 2009 to help people who had been sterilized. No compensation has yet been awarded to victims.
“Individuals from rural communities are over-represented in rankings,” said Fuller Cooper, noting that Charlotte had not yet achieved big-city status during this period. “While sterilization often is perceived as a minority issue, data also show that white females were more likely to be sterilized than any other group.”
Females accounted for 85 percent of the sterilizations, which included victims as young as 10.
The 10 counties that led the state in authorized sterilizations during this period (1946-1968), from most to least, were: Mecklenburg, Guilford, Gaston, Pitt, Buncombe, Forsyth, Rowan, Scotland, Wake and Hertford.
Mecklenburg County sterilized three times more people than the second-ranked Guilford, Fuller Cooper said. The top 10 counties accounted for more than 30 percent of the sterilizations, and the top 25 counties accounted for more than 50 percent.
The Sterilization Victims Foundation staffs the Governor’s Eugenics Task Force, which will conduct a public listening session at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Eaddy Agronomics Building, 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh. Victims will have an opportunity to share their experiences and opinions on appropriate compensation.
Sterilization victims will receive priority seating. Pre-registration for speakers is encouraged because of time constraints but is not required. For information or to register, call the foundation’s toll-free hotline at 877-550-6013 or 919-807-4270.
The foundation has created a voluntary, online questionnaire on its website to collect information and recommendations from those who believe they were sterilized under the NC Eugenics Boards. Those without Internet access may call the foundation to have a printed copy mailed to them or to provide comment by phone.
Created by Executive Order No. 83, the Eugenics Task Force will recommend possible forms of compensation to victims and will evaluate recommendations of previous commissions. The task force is required to issue a preliminary report to the governor by Aug. 1 and a final report by Feb. 1. The Task Force is chaired by Dr. Laura Gerald, executive director of the State’s Health & Wellness Trust Fund.
Possible sterilization victims can call the foundation’s toll-free hotline, or visit the foundation’s website, www.sterilizationvictims.nc.gov, to download a verification request form. Foundation staff members are available to assist callers from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.