“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.