At 13 years old, African-American Elaine Riddick was raped by a neighbor in Winfall, North Carolina, in 1967. Immediately after giving birth, Riddick was never told that the state ordered that she be sterilized — doctors would tie and cut off her fallopian tubes.
Announced Tuesday, Riddick, and those like her, may finally be receiving compensation. A task force is recommending to the state that people who were sterilized against their will under an old North Carolina state program be paid $50,000 each in compensation.
In addition to the surgery, the compensation accounts for Riddick’s lack of knowledge that a five-person state eugenics board in Raleigh approved the sterilization because she had been labeled “feebleminded” and “promiscuous” in her records.
It wasn’t until Riddick was 19, married and wanting more children, that she learned she would be incapable of having more kids.
“I was raped by a perpetrator [who was never charged] and then I was raped by the state of North Carolina. They took something from me both times,” she told MSNBC in November. “The state of North Carolina, they took something so dearly from me, something that was God-given.”
By the 1960s, tens of thousands of Americans in 32 states had been sterilized as a result of government-run eugenics programs. The concept of eugenics grew popular in the 1920s as eugenicists believed that poverty, alcoholism and promiscuity were traits that were inherited. Proponents of the theory argued that in order to be rid of those traits and improve society’s gene pool, men and women, specifically Black women, should be sterilized.
To date, about half a dozen states have apologized for the practices, but North Carolina is the first to move toward paying damages to the surviving victims.
Between 1929 and 1974, the state sterilized more than 7,600 people and, as of last year, it was reported that between 1,500 and 2,000 are still alive. North Carolina has verified 72 victims.
The panel recommended that the money go toward living victims, including those who may die before the lawmakers approve any compensation.
“You can’t rewind a watch or rewrite history. You just have to go forward and that’s what we’re trying to do in North Carolina,” Gov. Beverly Perdue told NBC News.
Although the task force has made the recommendation, the legislature must still approve any payments.
Stay tuned to BET.com for updates on the state’s final decision.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)