North Carolina Urges Sterilization Victims to Come Forward
Shantella Y. Sherman | 7/27/2011, 7:14 a.m.
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue appointed the task force to consider compensating victims and was on hand for the testimonies. Perdue said the testimonies were necessary in order to put faces and experiences with the raw data.
"This is a sad, hard day for North Carolina. We are in the greatest nation on the planet, and you hear these types of things and think, Third World, or someplace far removed. And it is difficult for me to hear because first, and foremost, I am a mother," Perdue said.
Some of the women, like sisters, Dottie and Flossie Bates, were mere girls when the procedures took place in 1934. Their niece, Karen Bates spoke on behalf the sisters, both now deceased, and said that hunger, and the inability of their father to feed them after his wife's death, turned the sisters into beggars. Medical records indicated that the sisters had been given appendectomies. It was only after one of the sisters fell ill with an acute appendicitis in 1936, that it was realized something was amiss. Even then, the teenagers had no recourse.
"The law was the law. They labeled both of the girls vagrant and feebleminded, which was all that was needed during that time to have them sterilized. In fact, they were two grief-stricken little girls who were trying to cope with the loss of their mother and deal with an increasingly despondent father," said Bates.
Others, like Elaine Riddick, were already victims of sexual assault and neglect when the state's help came to further exacerbate the trauma.
"I was hungry, dirty and unkept. I was the victim of rape, child abuse and neglect and so I was constantly bullied at home and school. But I was not feebleminded or 'fast', what they called promiscuous. What I was going through was horrible and then the state of North Carolina came along and cut me open like a hog," Riddick said.
According to her testimony, the product of that rape, her son Tony, was taken by Caesarian and she was sterilized. Now 57, Riddick said she continues to suffer ongoing medical complications. Tony, 42, also testified before the committee. He said the effects of the sterilization remain.
"What North Carolina did was wicked and wrong. It was nothing short of genocide or pre-meditated murder. What was done to my mother not only affected her, but me as well. I still have flashbacks of walking behind her going down dirt roads to try to hide her bleeding.
Still other women, like Naomi Shank and Margaret Cheek, were married when they were brought before North Carolina's sterilization board. In 1948, Shank was 17 years old and married when she miscarried the couple's first child. She said doctors told her husband to sign or make a mark on a form for her care, but nothing else.
"My mother had seven children and all of them had children. My husband said doctors assured him that a normal D&C would be done and that we could try having children again in a few months. The doctors later admitted they had sterilized me instead," Shank said.