Rita Thompson Swords of Matthews wasnt surprised when she heard North Carolina senators had killed an attempt to compensate hundreds of women like her whod been sterilized against their will by the state.
Its been 50 years, she said, and after that long, you learn patience.
Some victims are now talking about a class action suit, and 71-year-old Swords is ready to sign on.
It hurt my feelings when I heard the plan fell apart, but Im the quiet kind, not given to exploding, said Swords, a disabled widow who lives in a trailer outside Matthews.
Id just like to tell (senators who opposed the plan) that they can find money for all kinds of things, but not the people who had their heart broken by the state. And my heart was broken.
Janice Black, 60, of Charlotte is also ready to join a class action suit for having her womanhood taken by the state. However, Black concedes that Wednesdays news wasnt a complete surprise
It wasnt going to pass, cause all these years theyve done nothing.
What failed this week was a House-approved attempt to give $50,000 each to surviving victims of a state eugenics program. Earlier this year, the House put $10 million in the state budget to pay the victims, but Senate Republicans refused to support the plan
Instead, they raised questions about whether offering it would open the door to other people seeking damages for previous state activities. For decades, that debate has included public arguments about reparations to the descendants of slaves in the states pre-Civil War era.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said it was a matter of not having the money.
Bergers position is disputed by critics like Chris Fitzsimon of the North Carolina Justice Centers N.C. Policy Watch.
It was not a financial decision, Fitzsimon wrote Friday on the agencys Web site. The compensation plan from the House would have cost $11 million in a $20 billion budget. They could have easily found the money if they had wanted to find it. They chose to ignore the victims, to make them wait even longer.
Democratic Gov. Mike Easley issued a formal apology for the eugenics program in 2002, and current Gov. Bev Perdue backed the efforts of House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, to compensate the victims.
The N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation estimates between 1,350 and 1,800 victims of sterilization in North Carolina are still living, with 146 verified.
Funding for the foundation ends June 30, meaning the office will be shut down. However, state officials said steps are being taken to make sure victims of eugenics continued to have access to their records collected by the foundation.
The state Eugenics Board authorized the sterilization of about 7,600 residents between 1929 and 1974. Included were 485 in Mecklenburg County, far more than any other county in the state.
Janice Black was among the last, in 1971. She was 18 and had an estimated mental age of 7 at the time. Her family decided she wasnt fit to raise children, so her stepmother took her to Charlotte Memorial Hospital where Black said she was sterilized without her knowledge.
They sterilized her the way youd do a dog, said Sadie Long, Blacks caregiver and legal guardian. Shes mentally slow, but she works three days a week at the hospital, cleaning surgical equipment. Shes a productive member of society.
Plans for a lawsuit
Swords tells a similar story about her sterilization at age 21. It happened in 1960, when she was in the hospital about to deliver a baby, she recalls. Without her knowledge, she said, her father signed a consent form to have her sterilized. He was in the same hospital at the time, she said, recovering from a stroke.
My daddy wasnt in his right mind when they pulled this sneaky thing off. He was drugged up, said Swords, who denied reports in a case file that said she and her father were eager to have the procedure done.
After everything happened, I do remember my daddy talking to me about it. He kept hugging me and telling me he was sorry.
Victim Elaine Riddick of Atlanta told the News & Observer (of Raleigh) this week that she is initiating a class action suit against the state with Florida attorney Willie Gary, who is on the board of Shaw University.
Gary could not be reached Friday.
However, Sadie Long said Black had also been in contact with Gary about a possible suit. She said that no formal decision had been made.
Long said Black had been warned weeks ago by state officials that the compensation plan was not expected to clear the Senate.
We are ready, willing and we have our boxing gloves on, said Long. Id like to tell those senators: What if this was your daughter? What if this was your sister? I bet theyd do something then.