Virginia lawmakers have approved a measure seeking to financially compensate victims of its 50-year long, state-sponsored eugenics sterilization program.
On Thursday, the Virginia General Assembly voted in favor of paying out $25,000 to each of the 11 remaining victims who were forcibly sterilized under the state’s “Eugenical Sterilization Act.”
Passed in 1924, the Act led to the involuntary sterilization of anywhere between 7,300 and 8,300 people until it was repealed in 1974, and is said to have partly inspired Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s dream to create a master race.
Under the Act, leaders of colonies and physicians at mental health institutions across the state identified individuals deemed “undesirable,” “defective” and feeble-minded and made the case to hospital boards to prevent those individuals from having children.
Victims deemed “mentally ill” and “mentally deficient” included those “afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy,” according to the law.
The law protected the act of sterilizing minorities, poor whites and “mongrels,” people of non-white heritage.
“Often, ‘mongrels’ and ‘worthless’ whites were collected in ‘mountain sweeps.’ This involved a sheriff of a nearby town driving into mountain villages and forcibly removing individuals and taking them to institutions where they would only be released upon submission to sterilization,” according to a report compiled by the University of Vermont.
The proposed sterilization of Virginia resident Carrie Buck, who was deemed “feeble-minded” after having the baby of her rapist, sparked the Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell in 1927, which established the legitimacy of the practice with the goal of eliminating “defective” individuals.
At the time, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Holmes is said to have remarked that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
Attempting to preserve the purity of the “American race,” the wealthy, white Virginia elite paired the Eugenical Sterilization Act with another law, the “Racial Integrity Act,” which made it “unlawful for any white person in [Virginia] to marry any [person] save a white person.” Both acts were passed on the same day.
One victim, Lewis Reynolds, 85, recounted his hardship after being sterilized to the Associated Press, saying his first wife deserted him because of his inability to have kids. Reynolds remarried, but said he and his second wife would sometimes share tears because they could never have children.
Rep. Ben Cline, a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates and one of the sponsors of the compensation bill, said the time had long come to reimburse afflicted families.
“There was a growing consensus that we needed to act while we still had the opportunity to look these people in the eye and acknowledge the wrong that was committed against them so many years ago,” Cline said.
Virginia wasn’t the only state with a eugenics program.
“Nearly 65,000 Americans were sterilized in 33 states, including more than 20,000 in California alone,” reports the Daily Mail.
The practice of compulsory sterilization hasn’t ended either.
In 2013, it was revealed that doctors working with California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had sterilized up to 148 women via tubal ligations between the years 2006 and 2010, with 100 more said to have taken place in the late 1990s.
Virginia is the second state to compensate victims of the eugenics program following North Carolina, which passed a similar law in 2013.