Our story Sunday looked at the plight of an Alamance County woman who was victimized by North Carolina’s eugenics program in 1963. This editorial was published the same day.
“I’m not crazy, and I’m not an idiot. I had two children. They figured if I didn’t (get sterilized), I’d probably have more.”
Elizabeth Talley’s words echo. Her story now sadly familiar. The outcome horrifying by any reckoning.
Talley, of Mebane, is one of 146 recorded living victims of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program, a hideous practice that thrived for decades under the guidance of people smart enough — not to mention human enough — to know better. According to the North Carolina Eugenics Board, from 1929 to 1974 an estimated 7,600 people were robbed of the ability to reproduce by the state. The cases cut across all 100 North Carolina counties. The total number of people from Alamance County sterilized from 1946 to 1968 numbers 93 by most recent reckoning. It could be many more. Not all cases were documented.
It’s one of the most shameful marks on our state’s history.
Talley, who grew up in Union Ridge, was sterilized at age 18 in a program that judged her to be “childlike in nature,” plain in appearance, lacking cultural advantages, emotionally immature and not “functioning above the level of mentally retarded.”
According to a state task force, hundreds then thousands of men and women were sterilized for similar reasons, many of which turned out to be specious at best and outright lies at worst. Such was the case of Elizabeth Talley. It was the kind of thing practiced in Nazi Germany, whereby government functionaries deemed people unfit to reproduce then ruthlessly took that right away. North Carolina was hardly alone. More than 30 states had similar programs but North Carolina did it more frequently than most and actually raised the number after World War II, according to published reports. The John Locke Foundation, a conservative Raleigh think tank, reported that North Carolina was one of the few states to forcibly sterilize people not in mental institutions.
So far Talley — sterilized in 1963 with the consent of her mother — and other victims of this unfathomable violation of personal freedom and human rights have been denied compensation by the state. The state House in June approved — with bipartisan support — legislation endorsing a lump sum $50,000 payment to each living victim of the Eugenics Board program.
It was the right and moral thing to do.
But state Senate Republicans balked at the $10.3 million program, calling it new spending during tough economic times. From where we sit, it’s hard to understand how members can live with that decision or themselves for making it. They should be ashamed.
Because, as we have stated previously, compensating the victims of this heinous act by the government has to be about more than money. It’s about owning up to a vast and unspeakable wrongdoing against thousands of innocent people. And while money alone can’t buy back what the state’s victims have already lost, it’s a start toward a decent apology for stealing so much from so many individuals. That our state’s leaders can’t manage to do the decent thing is appalling.
“It ain’t going to erase the pain, the hurt, the lonely nights. No amount of money can do that.”
Elizabeth Talley’s words haunt.