Greensboro, N.C. -- It's hard to believe that just 35 years ago, North Carolina doctors sterilized people who were mentally ill, mentally challenged, physically ill or even simply just poor.
At the time, the state thought these kinds of people were bringing down the rest of the population and if they had children, they would just create more problems for society.
The state has apologized for the program and governor Bev Purdue has even setup a task force to try to find a way to compensate the victims and their families.
We want for the state of North Carolina to finally make right what they did all those years ago," Karen Beck said. The state wanted to sterilize Becks' grandmother, Flossie Wood, but she ran away. Then, Flossie got raped and later gave birth to Karen's mother, Roberta Phipps. Right after delivery, doctors sterilized Flossie.
Sometimes it comes up and you feel like it didn't happen all those years ago. Then, it's like it happened yesterday," Beck said.
Doctors sterilized Flossie's sister before she ever got the chance to have children.
"They said that she wore coveralls. That she played with a little boy younger than herself. They said she had difficulty playing in group situations with other children and that she wouldn't look anyone in the eye," Beck said.
Greensboro attorney Demetrius Berry sits on the governor's task force that's studying the effects of the eugenics program.
"Even in cases where people gave consent, it appears as though that consent was maybe not really informed. Maybe they didn't really understand what was going on. Or, maybe they were threatened their welfare benefits may be terminated if they didn't sign this form or put an x on this form," Berry said.
Medical records from 1950 show doctors sterilized patients who were feeble-minded (which means mentally challenged), had many sexual relationships or even one woman who's family had a "history of inter-marriage with Indian and negro."
Berry said, "They thought they were doing something good...trying to deal with social poverty, trying to deal with illegitimacy, having pregnancies out of wedlock or just thinking that we could produce a greater human race."
Beck's loved ones have already passed away. But she hopes the state will find a way to make things right for others.
"You can't ever go back and fix these bodies. You can't ever restore these lost legacies. You'll never be able to do that. But, what you can do is say you're sorry. Make it meaningful. Finally get around to making restitution," Beck said.
Karen would not exist today if the state had sterilized her grandmother before she got pregnant. Karen's siblings, children and grandson wouldn't be here either.
During the period of time between 1946 and 1968, Guilford County had the second highest number of sterilizations in the state.
The state is hosting a listening session on Wednesday in Raleigh. The goal is to hear victims' voices - in hopes lawmakers will find a proper way to apologize. If you'd like to attend, call 877-550-6013 to register.
The governor's task force will present its final recommendation in February 2012.
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