Gov. Bev Perdue, D-NC, who listened to the stories of the victims, but made no promises of compensation. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo
RALEIGH, N.C., June 23 (UPI) -- North Carolina officials heard gut-wrenching testimony from men and women sterilized by the state during a 50-year period to cut welfare costs.
The stories of about a dozen of the nearly 7,600 people who were sterilized at the direction of the state were heard during testimony Wednesday before a state task force that will recommend ways to compensate them, The (Raleigh) News and Observer reported.
From the 1920s to the 1970s, the state-funded Eugenics Board determined certain groups of people -- the poor, undereducated or mentally unstable -- were unfit for parenthood. Former Gov. Mike Easley apologized to the state's eugenics victims in 2002, but there has been no compensation so far.
Gov. Bev Perdue and four state representatives attended the session, thanking the victims for sharing their stories, but made no promises of compensation.
"I came here as a woman, a mama, a grandmama, and a governor of the state to say that it was wrong," Perdue said. "I'm here to tell you how important these hearings are."
One woman, Elaine Riddick, 57, told the panel she became pregnant when she was raped at age 14, CBS News reported. The day she delivered her son, doctors sterilized her on orders from the state.
"They said that I was feeble-minded, they said that I was promiscuous," Riddick told CBS News. "I've always been able to take care of myself -- I've never been promiscuous. So how can people use these things to describe a child that had been abandoned? Or that had been raped by the neighbor and then again, raped by the state of North Carolina?"
North Carolina state Rep. Larry Womble, a Democrat sitting on the task force, said he hoped lawmakers would pass legislation that would allow eugenics victims to receive compensation, as well as counseling and medical help.
CBS News said more than 60,000 people in 32 states were affected by state-sanctioned sterilization programs aimed at cutting welfare costs.
"The people who were the focus of this movement were the dispossessed of society," Paul Lombardo, of Georgia State University's College of Law, said. "In some cases, simply people of color."