The Charlotte Observer reports state officials have spent more than a year trying to find those who had been sterilized so they can be compensated, because the operations were medically unnecessary and immoral.
Between 1929 and 1974, the state -- though its N.C. Eugenics Board -- authorized sterilizations of about 7,600 North Carolina residents classified as mentally ill, epileptic or "feeble-minded," which generally meant an IQ of less than 70, the Observer said.
The newspaper said Wallace Kuralt, the head of the Mecklenburg County Welfare Department from 1945 to 1972, had a nationwide reputation as a leader in eugenic sterilization. In his words, his department sought clients from among "low mentality-low income families which tend to produce the largest number of children."
He considered sterilization part of progressive family planning.
Some women came to the state pleading to be sterilized, particularly before the birth control pill. But Mecklenburg County advocated the operations for people who were poor, disabled or in trouble, the Observer said.
Most of the sterilizations occurred in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Today, parents can ask a judge to have a child sterilized but only as a last resort.
Ellen Russell, director of advocacy for The Arc of North Carolina, a non-profit that works with developmentally and intellectually disabled people, says IQ is not a dependable measure of someone's ability to raise children.
"There are certainly people with developmental disabilities who can raise children well," Russell said. "As there are people without developmental disabilities who can't."