At the Eugenics hearing
Posted June 22, 2011 10:14 a.m. EDT
Updated June 24, 2011 7:23 a.m. EDT
I'm liveblogging some highlights from today's listening session at the Governor's Task Force on compensation for victims of forced sterilization. Refresh often.
12:28pm Gov. Perdue leaves, taking no questions and making no further comments. Meeting adjourns.
12:15 Mary Francis Smith English, final speaker. Married at 16, then divorced after husband came back from Vietnam. It was 1972.
"I was going to a very, very upscale OBGYN clinic in Fayetteville. I was having a lot of female problems. The new doctor there assured me he could get me into this program" so she wouldn't have to worry about birth control.
She says she trusted him completely. She signed the form he gave her. "He told me this would help me. I wanted to go to college. I had three great kids." She says she was told it would be reversible.
She got engaged a few years later. When she went back to her doctor to have the surgery undone, "He laughed."
"He said, 'I don't know what you're talking about. You're sterile. You'll never have any more children,'" she recounted. "He said, 'I don't know what you think I told you, but you ought to be thankful for the three you got.'"
"I thought I was having them tied. No. He clipped them and burned them, ladies," English said. "He thought it was funny. He laughed at me three times."
English says no one believed her, and everyone told her to drop it, until the clinic owners came to speak to her to apologize for what happened. "There's nothing we can do to undo what was done. We're sorry."
She says it's caused her chronic depression and isolation.
She says a lot of other women she knew went to the same practice and were pressured by the doctor to be sterilized. But she says they don't want to speak out about it because they don't want the media attention.
"We're supposed to be civilized. We're the United States, for God's sake. This was so wrong. We're gonna need help here," she said.
She says she'll fight for medical compensation.
12:00 Gov. Perdue speaking from the back of the room. "I'm not here in an official capacity. I'm just here to tell you how important these hearings are. It's hard for me to accept or to understand or even try to figure out why these kind of atrocious acts could have been committed in this country."
"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."
"These are hard stories to hear. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here. This is not a good day for us, to hear the stories. It's not a happy day for North Carolina, and it must be a hard, hard day for you."
11:58 Charmaine Fuller Cooper (with the Foundation) is thanking those who told their stories and asking for any others.
11:56 Gov. Perdue is here, but I'm told she won't be making formal remarks from the podium. She's sitting in the back of the room.
11:55 Mary English speaking on behalf of David Pridgen. His aunt, Margaret Pridgen, was a likely victim of sterilization. She was the black sheep of the family, considered a "fool." She never had children, though she wanted them badly. "She used to collect baby clothes."
English says Pridgen was sent to the Samarkand Reform School for Girls "because she got in a car with a boy. She was labeled feeble-minded." A number of girls at Samarkand were involuntarily sterilized, usually under the guise of appendicitis. Pridgen was one of 16 girls who burned down two buildings there in 1931. English says she's petitioning the Governor for a pardon for the girls.
11:44 Naomi Schenck says she was sterilized at 17. She was married at 16, had a miscarriage, and her husband gave permission for a D and C, but doctors sterilized her instead.
11:39 am Still on break. Governor Perdue is expected to arrive soon to speak. I'm told she'll sign a bill, House Bill 374, that will seal the records of victims of sterilization. Bill Sponsor Rep. Womble says this will help protect them from being victimized.
11:14 am Deborah Chesson is reading a letter from her mother, Nial Ramirez, who can't travel because of health problems. Her mother was sterilized after having her daughter at 17. "I was told that if I had more children, my family would no longer receive public assistance." Ramirez says she was told at the time the procedure was reversible. "I was lied to."
Ramirez says she's had "female medical problems" her whole life after the surgery.
Chesson says her mother and other victims "were treated like rats in a lab" by the Eugenics board. "These days, even the rats have someone to speak for them," Chesson says. "What has been said for the victims of sterilization? They mean nothing."
Chesson says the early proposal for victims' compensation was $50,000. "Legislators said 'You're not worth 50,000. We'll give you twenty thousand.' You have done the same thing the Eugenics Board did," Chesson said. "You are still saying she means nothing."
11:04 am Karen Beck speaking on behalf of grandmother and great-aunt, now deceased, Dottie Virginia Bates and Flossie May Bates, living in Winston-Salem during the Depression in 1934, with an absent and alcoholic father. After their mother died, they were separated in foster care. They ran away to be together. Flossie was raped and became pregnant. Their father agreed to have them sterilized. In 1935, after giving birth to one daughter Flossie was sterilized. In 1936, Dottie was sterilized at 15. She was told she was having her appendix out. She never knew till she had appendicitis later in life what had happened.
Beck says the caseworkers recommended sterilization because the girls were "vagrants," "beggars," "had an illegitimate child" (due to rape) and "mother was feeble-minded" (Beck says she was dying of hunger). "They were two grief-stricken little girls who'd lost their mother and were trying to get by."
10:54 Melissa Chapel Hyatt is speaking for her "adopted" father Charles Holt. He was sterilized at 19 when he was living at the Murdoch Center. He wasn't told what was happening, either by the state or his parents. She says his sterilization cost him "the love of his life," isolated him, and drove him to depression and alcoholism over the years. He now has liver cancer. Hyatt says he adores kids and has taken care of many children over the years, including her. "I never know about the surgery till recently. Now I understand his depression."
She says Holt has learning disabilities and is classified as mildly retarded, but aside from that, his psychological evaluation from the time didn't show he had any problems at all. "Why was it for the public's good that he didn't have children?"
10:43 Delores Marks says her mother was sent to a hospital with post-partum depression after her fifth child. She was kept there for 12 years, subjected to electroshock therapy with no anesthesia. "They said she stared, she was distant, and she didn't understand what was going on around her," yet they sterilized her in 1965. When she came home she was almost 40 years old.
Marks's sister Australia Clay speaking now. "It's important that this never happens again. We have to fight."
"We speak for our mother. Her name was Margaret Cheek (sp?), and she was a real person. Not a number. She was our mother."
She's encouraging others not to be embarrassed about their stories. "It needs to be told. You need to tell it all."
"This is North Carolina's holocaust. We need a wall. We need a library."
Clay says her mother was not feeble-minded - she had an 11th grade education and taught school in her neighborhood - but she suffered post-partum depression and domestic abuse, and had a nervous breakdown.
Clay says her mother was a "guinea pig" for "bogus science."
"We took care of her. We took care of the shell they sent back to us." Clay says.
10:23 Elaine Riddick was sterilized at the age of 14. "The reason the state gave is because I couldn't get along well with others in school. I was feebleminded, I was promiscuous."
"I couldn't get along well with others because I was hungry, I was odd, I was dirty, I was unkempt. I was the victim of rape. I was the victim of child abuse."
Riddick says she was pregnant at 14. When the state doctors did a Caesarian section, they sterilized her.
She's sobbing, but talking through the tears. "I've got to get this out."
"The state of North Carolina slandered me," Riddick said. "They cut me open like I was a hog."
Riddick says she's lived a lifetime of depression and shame since then, on and off medication, struggling to get by.
"What do you think I'm worth?" she asked the panel. "The kids I did not have, could not have, what are they worth?"
10:15: Rep Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, starts off the meeting with the story of how he learned about the state sterilization program in 2002, and what the state has done since then. "We are the only state in this nation who's trying to do something to address this ugly chapter in our history."
Womble to the victims waiting to speak today: "You are not forgotten, and you will not be forgotten."
He's also talking about his House Bill 70, which would have set aside money for compensation for those victims of the state's sterilization program that are still alive, and his House Bill 73, which would give the victims free health care for the rest of their lives. Neither made it through Crossover, but Womble is hopeful they'll be resurrected next session.
"We have to go beyond compassion. It's time to start implementing some things."