It was 1967; Elaine Riddick was only 13-years-old when she was raped by a neighbor while taking the long road home. She became pregnant from this event, and nine months later awoke in a hospital bed, bandages covering her stomach. She had given birth to a baby boy, and in the process became a victim of her state’s eugenics program designed to weed out undesirable persons by having them surgically sterilized.
Beginning in the 1920s, the scientific theory of eugenics gained popularity across the country. Eugenicists believed that immoral and less favorable traits could be eliminated from the gene pool by sterilizing those seen to possess this traits. Among notable eugenicists were Dr. Clarence Gamble (of the Proctor and Gamble fame) and James Hanes (of the clothing company). Groups like the Human Betterment League were instituted to carry out the messages of the movement.
Taking a cue straight from the horror section, between the 1920s and the 1970s, 31 states participated in and had their own government backed eugenic programs. The goal was simple: eliminate the likelihood of community dysfunction by making it impossible for those residents thought of as “unfavorable” to have children. Years after Riddick’s fallopian tubes were cut and tied, she found that a “five-person state eugenics board in Raleigh [North Carolina] had approved a recommendation that she be sterilized. The records label[ed] Riddick as ‘feebleminded’ and ‘promiscuous.’ They said her schoolwork was poor and that she ‘does not get along well with others.’”
It was not until years after the ordeal that Riddick knew the full extent of the work done to her body. Her first son was to be her last. “I was raped by a perpetrator [who was never charged] and then I was raped by the state of North Carolina,” Riddick confesses to MSNBC–she uses words like “butchered” to describe how she felt. “They took something from me both times…The state of North Carolina, they took something so dearly from me, something that was God given.”
In the years since, North Carolina has made steps in righting their wrongs of the past. In 1977, the eugenics board was dissolved; the law that made it possible for involuntary sterilization was repealed in 2003, and in 2002 North Carolina officially issued an apology to the approximately 7,600 victims of state induced sterilizations. In the time since, current governor of North Carolina, Beverly Perdue, has created three task forces charged with finding a manner in which to properly compensate those who lives were changed by government intervention. If those victims are financially compensated, then North Carolina will be the first state in the country to move beyond apologies and towards actions guided to help the victims.
It is estimated that approximately 2,000 victims are alive today and it is just a matter of linking the right person to the right case, say officials involved with the case. According to the Charlotte Observer, after searching for victims for over a year, “the state has matched just 41 survivors to its records.”
Governor Perdue expresses her, and the state’s, wish to put the actions done in the past behind them and work to keep the state moving forward. “I want this solved on my watch. I want there to be completion. I want the whole discussion to end and there be action for these folks. There is nobody in North Carolina who is waiting for anybody to die.”
To show your support for those victimized by the North Carolina eugenics program and to urge the state in making the victims a priority, sign the petition here.
Photo Credit: nih.gov/catalyst/2001/01.09.01/eugenicslogo.jpg