NC NAACP: Extend the sterilization deadline

Advocates for extending the deadline for sterilization compensation gained traction yesterday when Rev. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, sent an open letter to the General Assembly calling legislators to push back the June 30 deadline and allocate more resources for finding victims.The letter calls for the deadline to be extended until June 30, 2015 with victims slated to begin receiving compensation payments in July. As of last week, only 630 people had applied for compensation out of the 1,300 to 1,800 estimated living victims, according to the state state Center for Health Statistics in 2010.Barber, one of the chief architects of the Moral Monday movement, argues that extending the deadline is not “a political issue” but a moral one.

“This arbitrary deadline of one year contradicts the moral obligation to rectify the decades of inhumane treatment,” Barber wrote in the letter. “There should be grace in this situation and, therefore, a grace period in this deadline.”

He concedes that money can’t undo the suffering inflicted upon victims by the state’s forced sterilization program, but that compensation brings the state closer to making amends for sterilizing at least 7,600 men, women and children between 1929 and 1974.

“Let the state be as zealous locating the between two and four thousand victims and their heirs as it was when it tracked them down in their early teens, convinced the eugenics board they were defective people and then removed their reproductive organs,” Barber wrote.

Barber argues that because no money was set aside by legislators to find victims, the task fell to non-profits and advocacy groups to get the word out.

“There’s been no coordinated outreach to victims or their family members,” said Elizabeth Haddix, a staff attorney with the UNC Center for Civil Rights

The advocacy group works with low-income African-American clients, similar to the people that North Carolina targeted for sterilization during the eugenics program’s final years. In addition to helping victims fill out necessary paperwork to apply for compensation, Haddix and others at the center sent out fliers to get the word out to potential victims. She’s been calling for the deadline to be extended since last November.

“We’ve been contacted by a few people who without that outreach would not have known about the compensation program,” Haddix said.

Although Barber doesn’t believe sterilization compensation should be used as a political tool, my reporting found that the campaign for passing compensation was highly political. My article, “Breaking the ‘wicked silence'”, published in Triad City Beat, details the decade-long struggle that ultimately united Democrats and Republicans legislators to pass compensation.

It’s no wonder that, in addition to getting the word out to potential victims, Haddix also appealed to NC Legislative Black Caucus members such as NC Senators Angela Bryant and Earline Parmon. As a longtime champion of eugenics compensation, Parmon agrees with Barber’s call for a deadline extension and more resources for finding victims.“I believe we can find a way to tweak the legislation to identify victims who are eligible for the program but have not applied and proceed to compensate those who have been determined eligible by the Industrial Commission,” Parmon wrote in an email.
Another member of the NC Legislative Black Caucus, Rep. Larry Hall, recently proposed a bill to extend the deadline for victims to apply for compensation until September 30, 2014. The bill, HB 1241, has not made it past the committee.

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