RALEIGH, N.C. -- Thirteen people who were sterilized in a state-sponsored program shared their stories Wednesday with a governor-appointed task force that will recommend ways to compensate them.
The victims came from as far away as Georgia to tell secrets that they have kept for decades. Since former Gov. Mike Easley apologized to the victims in 2002, no forms of compensation have taken place.
Gov. Bev Perdue and four state representatives attended the session and thanked the victims for the courage of sharing their stories without offering any promise of compensation.
"I came here today as a woman, as a mama, as a grandmama and as the governor of this state to tell you it was wrong" Perdue said. "I'm here to tell you how important these hearings are."
From the 1920s to the 1970s, the state of North Carolina sterilized nearly 7,600 people. The state-funded Eugenics Board determined that certain groups of people -- those who were poor, undereducated, mentally unstable -- were unfit to carry on the responsibility of parenthood. Social workers were employed to coerce people into sterilization. Often the victims were told they had appendicitis and didn't find out until years later that they had been sterilized.
In tears, Deborah Chesson spoke on behalf of her mother, Nial Ramirez. At 17, Ramirez was threatened with sterilization by a social worker after giving birth to Chesson, who spoke of the emotional and physical side effects that her mother endured. If legislators choose not to compensate the victims, Chesson said, her mother will remain invisible by the state.
"How much longer do we have to wait?" Chesson said. "Forty-seven years later, it's still being said to my mother, 'You mean nothing."'
Rep. Larry Womble from Winston-Salem, N.C., who has been the driving force in introducing eugenics compensation legislation for years, said he hoped to his fellow legislators would agree to pass a bill that would allow the victims to receive compensations as well as counseling and medical help.
"I hope something tangible will come out of this hearing," Womble said.
The task force will submit recommendations to the governor based on Wednesday's hearing. It will be up to the legislature to determine if and whether there will be compensation.
Randon Pender, president of the Winston-Salem Black Chamber of Commerce, said she came to support the victims. She said she hopes to see the state take action soon.
"We're thankful for the apology," Pender said. "But at the end, compensation must occur."
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