Local/State

Money for eugenics victims part of state budget deal

Monday, July 22, 2013
Mary Frances English

After fighting for years to be compensated for being forced to get sterilized, money may finally be on the way.

There were nearly 8,000 victims. Now, the few hundred who are still alive may finally get what they want.

State House and Senate leaders reached a deal that could give a one-time payment to living victims of North Carolina's Eugenics program.

Victims have had their hopes dashed plenty through the years, but North Carolina appears closer than ever to a deal on compensating the victims of the sterilization program known as eugenics.

In the budget agreement announced Sunday, Republicans budgeted $10 million in total.

The state's eugenics history played out between 1929 and 1973. North Carolina sterilized 7,600 people who were determined to be mentally handicapped.

It was a program aimed at beefing up the gene pool, and it's one of the most shameful parts of the state's history.

Mary Frances English was one of the first eugenics victims to go public with her story. Now she and others hope that finally they are about to find peace.

English says for the first time in 40 years she is speechless.

"I am happy and I am so thankful, this validates everything," said English.

A former broadcaster, English has never tried to hide or cover up her story.

In 1972, she was a young pregnant divorcee with three children, when her OB-GYN offered to help her with birth control. Three years later, she says she learned she'd been sterilized as part of the secret state sponsored eugenics program between 1929 and 1973.

State officials believe that as many as 1,800 victims may still be alive, but so far only 146 have been verified.

English says she has paid a high price going public with her story, and her shames.

"I lost friends. I lost family members once in a while," said English. "People would come up to me in the store and some would say 'Good luck. I am proud of you for speaking out.' Others would walk past me and tell me 'You need to keep your mouth shut.'"

English says no amount of money can change what a doctor did to her. What's important she says is the state atoning for its mistake.

"Now there is not only an apology in words, but an apology in deeds," said English.

Victims were hopeful a year ago, but Republicans in the Senate blocked a compensation package that had passed the House. Many in the GOP just simply were not comfortable with a current legislature atoning for the mistakes of past legislatures.

Governor McCrory, however, has been a vocal supporter of eugenics compensation.

Of the 33 states to participate in eugenics, North Carolina would become the first to compensate its victims.

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