Published: Sep 04, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Aug 30, 2012 07:31 PM
The silence emanating from North Carolina pulpits is deafening.
Not many clergy speak out on behalf of the few hundred living victims of the state eugenics program. Nobody of the cloth cries out when the victims are violated anew by the state Senate that helped to forcibly sterilize them in the first place. The victims can only pray that the faith based community might somehow come to recognize the need for justice and begin to take decisive action to help achieve it.
Some 7,600 disproportionately African-American and poor citizens were sterilized by their government between 1929-1974. Many were teenage girls who were left barren for the rest of their lives. They didn’t even understand the operations performed on them.
The eugenics program was part of a world- wide wave of breeding for purity that reached its zenith in Nazi Germany. In North Carolina eugenics was driven by racist motives, fears about disintegrating black families, and concerns about burgeoning welfare rolls.
Only a few hundred victims remain-most have passed away and more die every few months. Gov. Perdue appointed a special commission which recommended a compensation payment of $50,000 to each living victim. She then included money in her proposed budget and the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Thom Tillis (R.-Mecklenburg), passed it. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R.-Rockingham) voiced support for the measure, but then the Senate never seriously considered it.
Pastors, lay leaders, and church governing boards, should now shake off decades of silence. They should speak up vigorously urging that:
• Gov. Perdue reach out to hospitals, philanthropic foundations, universities, and the business/corporate community for donations to partially offset some of the costs of compensation.
• Gov. Perdue should increase compensation to $100,000 per victim utilizing a matching plan of $2 for every private dollar contributed. If private contributions fail to raise sufficient funds, then the state should make up the difference by making modest cuts to all departments’ current budgets.
• Gov. Perdue convene a one-day special session of the legislature to modify the current budget to reflect these transfers and to pass any other needed enabling legislation.
The good works of our churches of all creeds are evident everywhere. Past neglect of the sterilization victims can be reversed. Churches hold an important key to mobilizing support for action on this issue.
An eloquent call to action comes from 1st Timothy 6:17-19: “Command those who are rich in this world not to be arrogant…Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” Churches should take to take this biblical challenge seriously.
People of faith should contact Gov. Perdue and Senator Berger to urge action on compensation. They should also give prayerful consideration to providing financial support to the Governor’s efforts to raise funds. This movement toward atonement can help to provide closure for the victims. North Carolina’s churches should break their silence and speak up for justice.
William C. Crawford He is a social worker living in Winston Salem. He can be contacted at email@example.com