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Victims of forced sterilization to receive $10 million from North Carolina

By Stacey Naggiar, NBC News

In a landmark move by the state of North Carolina Wednesday, lawmakers passed a budget that includes $10 million to compensate the state’s victims of forced sterilization. 

“There were challenges, we had to better educate our members -- and then of course we had to work through the fiscal challenges -- but at the end of the day, what we’ve done is something truly historic,” state House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, told NBC News.  

From 1929 to 1974 North Carolina forcibly sterilized thousands of men, women and children, usually without their consent.  It was part of a larger eugenics movement that believed poverty, promiscuity, and alcoholism were inherited traits, and that without them the gene pool could be improved.   

Elaine Riddick was raped and impregnated at 13 years old and, after giving birth to her baby boy Tony, she was sterilized against her will. Afterward, she lived for years in shame, but had something to prove. 

“People need to know that injustice was done towards them and they need to be compensated for that,” said Riddick, who was profiled by “NBC News Rock Center with Brian Williams” in November of 2011. 

Rock Center's Dr. Nancy Snyderman investigates how thousands of North Carolinians were sterilized under the state's now defunct eugenics program. Survivors such as Elaine Riddick are demanding answers and compensation from the government.

Riddick has been a formidable advocate for her fellow victims, pressing North Carolina to make amends.  But multiple attempts at compensation have not come to fruition. 

On Thursday Riddick said she was amazed to learn of North Carolina’s plans to compensate victims. 

“I tip my hat to North Carolina, finally they came to their senses and decided to do what’s right,” she said. 

Still, Riddick added, the money isn’t enough. 

“You can’t put a price on someone taking your womb or castrating you, it’s humiliating,” Riddick said. 

In 2002 North Carolina became one of the first states to publically apologize for practicing eugenics. It’s estimated that 7,600 people were sterilized in North Carolina, and according to the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation only 177 living victims have been verified to date. 

Only 48 of the surviving victims of North Carolina's now shuttered eugenics program have come forward and been matched to state records.  The North Carolina Institute for Sterilization Victims Foundation is tasked with finding the thousands of survivors believed to still be alive. Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

The $10 million appropriated for eugenics victims will be distributed equally among them starting in 2015.  This is an effort to give more victims the opportunity to come forward and be authenticated.  If a victim dies, their portion will move to their estate. 

“I hope this provides some closure to what I believe is one of the darkest chapters in the state’s history,” Tillis said.

As for Riddick, she wants other states to follow North Carolina’s example but, “My goodness, they could’ve done this a long time ago.” 

In an exclusive interview with Rock Center's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue discussed righting a dark episode in her state's history: the sterilization of 7,600 people between 1929 and 1974. The sterilizations were the result of a now shuttered government run eugenics program.

Professor Johanna Schoen's research and tireless advocacy first brought wide attention to the plight of North Carolina's sterilization victims. Schoen told Rock Center's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, "There was no justice for these people and that really made me angry."