The appointment of the first executive director of the N.C. Justice for Victims of Sterilization Foundation is a huge benchmark in the remediation of the damage caused by the Eugenics Board of North Carolina.
The director will have the aid of $250,000 included in Gov. Bev Perdue’s first budget and appropriated by the General Assembly.
This is a start, but it’s unclear if this amount can fairly compensate the people who were brutalized by the state.
The individual appointed to the position is Charmaine Fuller Cooper. She brings with her to this position an impressive resume, including the 2008 N.C. NAACP State Political Trailblazer Award. She is also the former executive director of the Carolina Justice Policy Center.
Cooper has an important task ahead of her: developing a plan to compensate the victims of forced sterilization.
There are still numerous survivors of the eugenics program. After all, it was only in 1974that North Carolina stopped sterilizing individuals that it deemed “mentally ill, mentally retarded or epileptic.”
The fact that these criteria were considered inherent grounds for forced sterilization as late as 1974 is abhorrent. Nearly three decades after World War II and the horrendous policies carried out in the name of eugenics, North Carolina still sought to bestow legitimacy to the practice.
Even worse, women were disproportionately victimized — by as much as a factor of 5 to 1, according to one of the board’s last biennial reports.
In a press release, Cooper said she was excited about “bringing justice to so many families and individuals affected by this tragic moment in North Carolina history.” But it was more than a moment. It was nearly half a century — between 1929 and 1974.
Cooper has the resume but not necessarily the resources to begin an important and long-overdue process of reconciliation. She has the power to develop an effective organization that can make a lasting impact on the lives of surviving victims.
Let’s hope she meets her mandate.
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