Raleigh, N.C. -- Thousands of people in North Carolina have carried around a painful secret. They were victims of the state's eugenics program. It's a program that sterilized 7,600 people labeled as mentally ill, mentally challenged, promiscuous or even poor.
State officials estimate that nearly 3,000 of the victims are still alive.
The program existed up until the late 1970s. Now, the state is trying to find a way to apologize.
Seventy-seven-year-old Willis Lynch told the task force Wednesday that he was sterilized at age 14 and has always regretted not being able to have children.
Others who spoke said the figure of $20,000 that's been suggested as a potential compensation amount will not be adequate.
North Carolina was one of the few states to ramp up its sterilization program after World War II. More than 70 percent of the procedures came after the war, peaking in the 1950s. North Carolina had the second-highest number of sterilizations in the U.S., after California.
About one dozen victims and family members traveled to Raleigh on Wednesday to share their story publicly, as a group, for the first time. Members of the Governor's Task Force addressing this issue were also there.
Elaine Riddick and her son, Tony Riddick, scream and cried as they shared their story.
"I have to get out what the state of North Carolina did to me. I am not feeble minded. I've never been feeble minded. They slandered me. They ridiculed and harassed me. They cut me open like I was a hog," Elaine Riddick said. "My body was too young for what they did to me. I had to have a child at the age of 14. When I had my son, at the same time they took my child in cesarean and then did that to me. What do you think I'm worth? ... I've never had nobody to take care of me. I've had to do this all by myself. I never had anyone give me anything. I had to pick my own self up...What am I worth? The kids I didn't have. Couldn't have. What are they worth?"
Tony Riddick added, "You harmed my mother and killed her womb . When u look forward - It's genocide - premeditated murder - you deserve to be punished....This is sinister. I know I don't have the power to bring justice myself....We say we are a nation that's concerned and compassionate and these victims have not been compensated yet. For my mother, it's been 43 years...God will hold you accountable for what you have done to my mom."
Here is a sample of what others said:
LeLa Dunston (victim)
"I can't have no babies...They told me to sign papers. I didn't sign papers. That was not my signature on these papers...I need a reward or something...some kind of compensation for all they put me through. I wanted more children. I wouldn't have minded having a daughter. Maybe two, maybe three."
Australia Clay (victim's family member)
"Every victim that went through any of this victimization was a guinea pig. A science guinea pig. It was bogus medicine. Bogus science...This is North Carolina's holocaust. We need a wall. We need a library. My mother needs her name and picture in a library room."
Melissa Hyatt (victim's loved one)
"Nobody explained what the surgery was for, at least to him."
Karen Beck (victim's family member)
"I'm sure the surgeons that wielded the knives against their small bodies believed they were doing the right thing. Indeed, how could any of them be wrong?"
Deborah Chesson (victim's family member)
"The eugenics board has deemed my mother nothing. To me, she is everything....You tore families apart. You hurt people. There's no compensation that can put that back."
The Top 10 counties that led the state in the highest number of authorized sterilizations during this period (1946-1968) include: (1) Mecklenburg, (2) Guilford, (3) Gaston, (4) Pitt, (5) Buncombe, (6) Forsyth, (7) Rowan, (8) Scotland, (9) Wake, and (10) Hertford. Those counties count for more than 30 percent of the total sterilizations in the state.
If you believe you are or know someone who may have been affected by the program and would like to verify your status and access your patient files, call the Sterilization Victims Foundation's toll-free hotline 1-877-550-6013 for information, or visit the Foundation's website.