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Victims of forced sterilization deserve their reparations

by Jim Longworth

According to the Winston-Salem Journal nearly 8,000 North Carolinians were sterilized against their will between the years 1929 and 1974. Sixty percent of them were African American, most were women, and many were children.

It was a tragic chapter in our state’s history, but we weren’t the only offender. Forced sterilizations occurred throughout America, though only California and Virginia performed more of the inhuman procedures than North Carolina. Not exactly a statistic of which to be proud.

Here in Winston-Salem, forced sterilizations were authorized by the Human Betterment League, an arm of the State Eugenics Board. The League was comprised of leading citizens, and their actions were authorized under a state law which allowed for forced sterilizations in the case of “epilepsy, sickness, and feeble mindedness.” But these social engineers went far beyond those boundaries by sterilizing young girls just because they were sexually active, or boys thought to be a disciplinary problem. One girl was sterilized because her teacher said she was always passing love notes in class. And a 10-year-old boy was castrated because he failed the Board’s standardized “memory test.” The test directed subjects to re-create on paper a series of shapes that had just been shown to them a few seconds earlier. Even an advanced art student would have had trouble making an accurate illustration under those circumstances, nevertheless, anyone failing the drawing test was labeled an imbecile, and subject to sterilization against their will.

We Americans like to think that our society is the most humane of all cultures, but the sterilization campaign which ran for 45 years, is the longest reign of ethnic cleansing in modern history.

In an episode of “Star Trek: the Next Generation”, Captain Picard, in responding to a proposed genetic engineering program on another planet said, “It’s a bad idea whose time has long since passed.” Blind engineer Jordi LaForge added, “I guess if I had been conceived on your world, I wouldn’t have even been here now.”

The forced sterilizations have ended in North Carolina, but genetic engineering continues today, and some say that we are in danger of once again attempting (albeit it in a non-violent way) to cleanse our society of imperfections. No doubt that debate will rage on for generations. In the meantime, Rep. Larry Womble (D-Winston-Salem) has reintroduced a bill that would require the state to make reparations to victims of forced sterilization. Under his proposal, some 3,000 surviving victims would be paid $50,000 each. Jim Black and his cronies killed the bill last year. Now, perhaps the Hackney regime will give Womble’s proposal a serious look. True, Gov. Mike Easley has already made a formal apology for the forced sterilizations, but we need to do more than just say we’re sorry, and Womble’s legislation would be a step in the right direction.

Today, African Americans, Native Americans, poor people, sexually active teens, homosexuals and others are often the victims of hate speech and hateful government policies, but at least they are no longer in danger of systematic sterilization. Still, we must be ever vigilant. After all, people can still be victimized in many different ways, and history can repeat itself.

I urge all of you to contact your state representatives and tell them to support reparations for victims of forced sterilization. If the bill fails again, then victims and their families need to start thinking seriously about a class action against the state, and against anyone still living who had a hand in directing or administering those horrific sterilizations. I’m not one for dredging up the past if it serves no purpose, but making financial restitution for these victims serves a great purpose. It would help bring closure to victims, and send a message to future social engineers that “this is a bad idea whose time has passed.”

Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today” which can be seen Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7), and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on MY48 (cable channel 15).

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