Five months after a terrible car accident, Forsyth Democrat Rep. Larry Womble returned to the legislature today for a committee hearing on eugenics compensation.
Womble was in a wheelchair and appeared to have lost his left eye, but his voice was still strong as he spoke to the committee in favor of H947, a bill he sponsored that would give $50,000 each to verified survivors of North Carolina's eugenics program.
The program, which ran from 1933 to 1974, forcibly sterilized some 7,600 men, women, and children. Many weren't even informed of what had been done to them.
North Carolina wasn't alone. More than 30 states had similar programs, especially in the 1930s. Supporters thought they were improving society by sterilizing people who were disabled, mentally ill, epileptic, prone to delinquent or "promiscuous" behavior, from alcoholic families, or in some cases, simply poor.
If North Carolina approves the proposal, it would be the first state to make restitution to victims.
Several victims and family members testified at the hearing. Womble spoke near the end.
His voice choking with emotion, Womble thanked House Majority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) and Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) for their strong support of the bill, as well as many other leaders who also supported it in years past.
"This has been a eleven-year fight for me," Womble told the committee. "It is a bill that separates North Carolina from the rest of the world. This is a proud day."
Since the Eugenics Board was first approved by state lawmakers, Womble said, it's only right that state lawmakers step up to make amends for it.
"Right is right, and right won't wrong nobody," he said, urging the committee to vote unanimously to approve the measure. "I'm beginning to see some light at the end of this long journey."