NC grapples with legacy of sterilization programs

June 19, 2011 - 9:59 AM
Sterilization Program

In this June 16, 2011 photo, Delores Marks holds a photograph of her mother, Margaret Helen Cheek, far left, at her home in Durham, N.C. Cheek was sterilized during North Carolina's eugenics program at Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, N.C., where she was a patient for more than 10 years. (AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — More than three decades after its sterilization program ended, North Carolina is alone among U.S. states in trying to make amends for its history of eugenics-based public policy.

Next week, some of the nearly 3,000 living victims of sterilization in the state will testify before a commission tasked with compensating them.

North Carolina had the most wide-ranging sterilization law in the country. Unlike most states, the majority of procedures occurred after World War II, peaking in the 1950s and 1960s. The last sterilization was performed in 1974.

Mary Kilburn was a psychologist who referred people to the state Eugenics Board for sterilization. She says she and her colleagues thought they were doing the right thing.

Altogether, roughly 7,600 sterilizations were performed, the second-highest total in the country.