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Robeson woman was victim of NC's forced sterilization program

Posted June 15, 2012

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— Virginia Brooks remembers it being the Great Depression when, at the age of 13, "the law" took her from her Robeson County foster home and put her in a detention center for girls in Moore County.

"I didn't know what was going on," the 83-year-old said Friday. "I didn't have anybody to take care of me, like I should. I didn't get to go to school, like I should."

Brooks spent 23 months at the detention facility, called Samarkand Manor, before she was delivered back to Robeson County to the custody of social services.

She was then put in a sanatorium, where workers there told her she needed to have her appendix removed.

Only after the fact did she learn the painful truth.

"They clipped my tubes to keep me from having children," Brooks said. "I didn't know why they did it. Nobody explained anything to me."

She was among more than 7,600 North Carolinians sterilized under the state's eugenics program, which lasted from 1929 until 1974.

Thirty-two other states had also adopted eugenics programs in the early 1900s out of a belief that humanity could evolve and society could be improved by breeding out undesirable characteristics.

Most states and other countries abandoned such efforts after World War II because of similarities with Nazi Germany's programs for racial purity. North Carolina's eugenics program expanded, however, with sterilizations peaking in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Virginia Brooks Robeson woman was victim of NC's eugenics program

Most of the people in the program were mental health patients, prisoners, poor or people the state deemed to be promiscuous.

Roughly 85 percent were women or girls – some as young as 10 years old.

Brooks was one of the victims.

She eventually got married and adopted a child, who gave her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"I would have loved to have had children," she said. "But that was robbed (from me). My life has been miserable. That's all I can say."

North Carolina is now trying to make amends to Brooks and at least 117 verified living victims of the forced sterilization program.

Earlier this year, a special panel, the Eugenics Compensation Task Force, recommended that each verified, living survivor be compensated $50,000, partly as a way for the state to pay for its mistake.

According to a report by the task force last year, up to 2,000 victims might still be alive.

This month, the North Carolina House of Representatives set aside $11 million in reserve in its 2012-13 budget plan to pay victims. The Senate, however, has no such reserve, and leaders say its doubtful compensation will get past this year.

Brooks doesn't much follow what's going on in the Legislature but says she feels like she deserves some kind of compensation for what happened to her.

"I deserve it, because they took my privilege from me," she said.

Now, she wants "the law" to give her something back. Her dignity.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • perryholden Jun 18, 2012

    As part of the family I can assure you Mrs. Brooks loves her daughter, husband, grandchildren and great grandchildren dearly. She shows this love daily. She is referring to the misery of not understanding why at the age of 13 she was put through such emotional turmoil, which has lasted all these years. This eugenics program was a state supported program and it was social services who signed for the procedure.

  • Sherlock Jun 18, 2012

    "I am sure her family, husband, kids and grandkids would love to know... "My life has been miserable. That's all I can say."...What a thing to say..."
    Wow, really made them feel wanted....I feel sorry for them not her.

  • kermit60 Jun 18, 2012

    It is so easy after the fact to see if something was right or wrong. If we want to correct past mistakes and compensate lets start with the American Indian, Japanese Americans who were put in internment camps, People who had homes or property destroyed during the cival war. Maybe the people who's homes we destroyed in Europe during WWII. We should be using history to learn from so we don't repeat mistakes. We can not make up for past mistakes with a few dollars, but maybe it will make a few people feel better about themselves.

  • 3rushnkids Jun 15, 2012

    Wow, as an adoptive Mom, I can say I was never robbed of anything. I love my adopted children as much, or more than, I could have loved a biological child!

  • Squirreling Dervish Jun 15, 2012

    "I am sure her family, husband, kids and grandkids would love to know... "My life has been miserable. That's all I can say."...What a thing to say..."

    She didn't say that.

    ~~~yes she did. Look up there. She is quoted as saying that~~~

  • PeaceRH Jun 15, 2012

    What the state did to this women and many others is unbelievable... just awful. She deserves every penny given to her. As a tax payer I don't mind my money going to this cause.

  • mythoffire Jun 15, 2012

    I would think NC, and every other state would learn from mistakes like this, but no, apparently not. Constitutional amendments like our the marriage ban prove this state has learned little.

  • airbornemonty Jun 15, 2012

    You won't have to personally pay these women, but the state needs to do that if only to correct a wrong that could be easily called, American Naziism.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 15, 2012

    "I am sure her family, husband, kids and grandkids would love to know... "My life has been miserable. That's all I can say."...What a thing to say..."

    She didn't say that.

    Her life was changed by a decision employees of NC made without her even knowing it.

    Lord knows what may have occurred had they not made this decision for her. For all we know, one of the children she may have had but didn't may have found a cure for cancer.

    They may have also grown up to be another Ted Bundy.

    The bottom line is, they had no right to do this without the approval of her or one of her family members.

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 15, 2012

    Rachel - "So take the money from those who did this- not from those who had nothing to do with it-quite frankly, I work too hard to care for my own to have my tax dollars go to pay for the mistakes of others."

    This was state-sanctioned back then which means the state has to pay for sanctioning it, which of course means - our tax dollars.