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Sterilization victims offered counsel by UNC's Center for Civil Rights

North Carolina is the first state to offer victims of sterilization programs monetary compensation, with Gov. Pat McCrory clearing $10 million in the state budget for the cause. The payments to verified victims will begin in June of 2015.

For victims, the School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights will provide a history of eugenics in North Carolina, explain the requirements for applying for compensation from the state and assist in filing claims, said Elizabeth Haddix, the senior staff attorney for the civil rights center.

“The folks who were targeted by this program were poor with mental health issues,” she said.

The final report from a task force started by former Gov. Bev Perdue shows more than 7,500 people were sterilized by the state in between 1929 and 1974.

Haddix also said African-Americans and women were targeted by the eugenics program.

The report said 85 percent of the victims were women and 40 percent of victims were non-white, predominantly African-American.

The N.C. General Assembly of 1929 authorized the sterilization of patients who most oftentimes possessed some form of mental disability. In 1933, the General Assembly created the Eugenics Board of North Carolina to review all sterilization, and the board existed until the General Assembly formally abolished it 1977.

Lutz Kaelber, who presented on eugenics at the 2012 Social Science History Association, said N.C. was unique in that there was an increase in sterilizations after 1945 — meaning there is a greater chance for victims to still be alive.

Kaelber, a sociology professor at the University of Vermont, said this compensation program would not have been feasible five years ago.

“I don’t think they would’ve implemented this program in 2008-09 during the financial crisis,” Kaelber said. “No person in the entire United States has ever been compensated for being sterilized under state law yet.”

North Carolina has an estimated 2,000 victims still living — but only 200 people have come forward, said Kaelber.

“It is not easy for victims to come forward, and some do not want to relive the pain that they went through,” he said.

Haddiz said she disagreed with the state’s decision to only compensate victims who were alive on June 30, 2013. “They ought to pay whoever was affected, including the families,” she said.

Haddix said while the monetary compensation will be accepted, it does not erase what was done to individuals by the state.

“I don’t think there is any amount of money to compensate these people whose lives were changed by this program,” Haddix said.

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