An Outrage: NC Black Women Were Sterilized

The state's eugenics board targeted poor, black and disabled females. Now victims are speaking out.

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Elaine Riddick (NBC)

Back in 1967, Elaine Riddick was raped in North Carolina at the age of 13 by a neighbor. She says that the state raped her again when it ordered that she be sterilized immediately after giving birth.

Shocking as that sounds, North Carolina was one of 31 states to have a government-run eugenics boards aimed at curbing birth rates among poor, black and disabled women.

Eugenicists believed that sterilization was a way to address poverty and the spread of lifestyles they considered to be dysfunctional, a way of thinking rooted in racism and class prejudice.

Now victims of North Carolina's program are speaking out, as NBC's Rock Center With Brian Williams reports:

Riddick was never told what was happening. "Got to the hospital and they put me in a room and that's all I remember, that's all I remember,” she said. "When I woke up, I woke up with bandages on my stomach."

Riddick's records reveal that a five-person state eugenics board in Raleigh had approved a recommendation that she be sterilized. The records label Riddick as "feebleminded" and "promiscuous." They said her schoolwork was poor and that she "does not get along well with others." ...

It wouldn't be until Riddick was 19, married and wanting more children, that she’d learn she was incapable of having any more babies. A doctor in New York where she was living at the time told her that she'd been sterilized ...

It began as a way to control welfare spending on poor white women and men, but over time, North Carolina shifted focus, targeting more women and more blacks than whites. A third of the sterilizations performed in North Carolina were done on girls under the age of 18. Some were as young as nine years old.

For the past eight years, North Carolina lawmakers have been working to find a way to compensate those involuntarily sterilized in the state between 1929 and 1974. During that time period, 7,600 people were sterilized in North Carolina. Of those who were sterilized, 85 percent of the victims were female and 40 percent were non-white.

As reported here by Nsenga Burton in August, the state of North Carolina is hashing out a plan to compensate victims. But how do you compensate someone for the progeny they will never have?

Learn more in the video above and at Rock Center With Brian Williams.

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