From an editorial published in the Winston-Salem Journal on Tuesday:
As she ran for office four years ago, Gov. Bev. Perdue said she’d help the victims of the state’s forced sterilization program. As she finishes her first and only term, she should swing for the fences with a matching-grant plan to make compensation for those victims start before she leaves office. She has nothing to lose. And N.C. and its victims have everything to gain.
Some of those victims, most notably Willis Lynch, who turned 79 in June and was sterilized at 14, when Truman was president, say the state is waiting for them to die so it won’t have to pay them. We want to believe something better.
Yes, the state Senate recently dropped the compensation push, shortly after the House approved it. State House Speaker Thom Tillis and Rep. Larry Womble led a righteous fight for compensation, only to be thwarted when Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger wouldn’t even put the matter to a vote in his chamber.
With victims who have endured almost 10 years of false promises hurting and dying, Perdue should rally charitable foundations statewide, including ones at hospitals that carried out the operations and companies and colleges that supported the program, to challenge the legislature with matching grants to start compensation. For example, in Winston-Salem, what is now the Wake Forest School of Medicine played a big role in the sterilization program. Foundations in general should join the push. This would also seem a natural for the progressive-minded Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
Foundations statewide could rally to the cause. The Democratic governor could urge it on, nail down the grants and, within the next few months, call a special session of the Republican-led legislature to match those grants – or give the public a detailed reason why it won’t.
The new governor and legislature that convenes in January probably won’t make compensation a high priority. Yet in 2009, Perdue got $250,000 allocated to set up a foundation to study compensation. This summer the legislature directed the Department of Administration to use as much as almost $129,000 of its appropriation to keep the foundation going.
This wrong must be righted now. North Carolina ran one of the most aggressive sterilization programs in the country, continuing long after almost every state realized their folly. N.C. victims were bullied into operations and lied to about the nature of those procedures. The tragedy of our state’s program was not realized until 2002 with our paper’s investigative series.
It’s past time to fulfill those promises. Demand action, Gov. Perdue.