Against Their Will
Freedom of choice, the right to decide for yourself what you want to do to your body, the right to live your life as you please are some of the violations and injustices done to over 7600 people living in North Carolina and many in other states too.
If you are not smart, considered feebleminded, retarded, promiscuous, unfit to care for yourself or anyone else, you fit into the mold, picture frame or criteria to be part of a program that would literally neuter as they do pets, young people that a panel of five played God over because they could. Many stated as the decisions were part of a panel consisting of five people and an executive secretary would look over cases or just their summaries, not really care about the person, the facts or the end result and decide that this poor, young, ignorant child needed to be sterilized as some state: For their own good.
Who is to decide what is right for another person? How can you justify threatening someone with institutionalization on a permanent basis if they did not agree to what the eugenics book deemed their fate or what some would say their decision that would change the lives of so many would state as Hitler did: not part of what he thought deemed to live or part of his Master Race. Extermination of the Jews was his plan as he justified his actions as did many other countries and leaders during the WWII.
Against Their Will is a compelling book that reveals the truths behind what the Eugenics Board did to so many, the documents that some were finally allowed to read, the cases where those that were victims allowed their names and what happened to them brought to light and the many that still bear the horrific scars on only on their body but within their minds and hearts too. How do you justify taking away someone’s right to have a child and claim that it is for the Public Good? How do you justify that just because one person might have an IQ that borders being retarded or slow that their offspring will be slow too? How do you justify and live with what you did?
Apologies are too late even though some doctors and board members seem to have found a bit of a conscience. Some state that they did not realize what they were doing while others felt the decisions made would benefit society in the long run. Parents that pleaded for their child’s right to bear children were often denied. Many did not understand the process and some were threatened with not being released from the institutions that housed them if they did not agree to the surgery. Others had their welfare benefits threatened and their children sent to orphanages if they did not agree to the terms of the board. In a country that is democratic and in a society that is supposed to protect its young this is nothing short of abuse.
The involuntary sterilization program was part of North Carolina’s board passing judgment over 76oo people by forcing their consent to perform surgery on them that they knew was wrong. You are the wife, daughter, sister or child of someone and your body is about to be violated but in a different way. You have been labeled, described, stamped and practically tattooed feebleminded or mentally retarded. You are poor, illiterate or black and not deserve to reproduce because your offspring might be just like you. For 40 years the Eugenics Board loomed over people that could not fight back and decided in a matter fact manner that short of what Hitler did to so many in his mass extermination program of those he deemed not fit to live, made sure that these defenseless people would no longer bear children.
Elaine Riddick Jessie tells her story in this book. You hear her voice, understand her pain and learn her outcome as he loses her battle with the board and winds up another victim. When parents cannot read or just know how to mark an X on a dotted line and no one bothers to read or explain what is written on the papers they are signing lives are changes and rights are violated. Some state officials did not think consent of parents who were functionally limited or they considered mentally retarded should be necessary.
This book incorporates newspaper articles by Journal Reporters that researched the information dealing with the Eugenics Board, the many victims, the doctors that preformed the surgeries and the operations that were illegally done in Forsyth County. Wake Forest University played a major role in this as a patron engineer funded the research. This person was tied to science and had a racial agenda dating back to the Nazis.
Reporter Danielle Deaver explains Tubal Ligation as performed by the doctors to sterilize many of the young girls. Followed by one doctor who questioned the veracity of the board when stating that offspring of a mentally retarded mother or sibling would be born the same way. What is to say that they child would not be a genius? Flawed assessments, flawed IQ’s and narrow- minded individuals with their own agendas loomed over these innocent people. The personal stories were many. Nial Cox Ramirez tells what happened to her in 1965 at the age of 18. Read Sign this or Else to learn just how far they would go to threaten a young girl if she did not sign for the operation. What would you do if the lives of the rest of your family were in question? Read pages 47-53 and learn more.
Imagine a wealthy recluse as reported by the Wake Forest University stated that a New York philanthropist with an interest in population genetics made a one hundred thousand dollar gift of stock to the Department of Medical Genetics in 1953. To learn more read Benefactor with a Racist Bent. There is so much more to learn and so many people involved in allowing this to happened included Dr. William Allan who supported the program when he questioned family trees, wanted to know which member were feebleminded and more. His research became the basis for much of the science and he and many others did at Bowman Gray School of Medicine. Read pages 61-63.
Wake Forest President William Louis Poteat supported this program, and embraced the movement. Followed by Castration: Files Suggest that punishment was often the aim as described by journal reporter Kevin Begos. Imagine reading as I did on page 69 that these operations were experimental and the rest is bone chilling.
Part three focuses on Selling a solution, It Ain’t Fair and putting kids to the test in 48. As the reporters continue to tell how so many thought this was great, how they sold the solution to the problem of you might say population control, allowing this to go on, even giving the eugenics board new legitimacy and political clout when they needed it. Bertha Dale Midgett Hymes comes from “ a place where generations of locals spilled blood and sweat just surviving.” Bertha was white and forced to undergo sterilization and wants you the reader to hear her voice and read her story. Social workers make rash decisions, her story not much different than others the outcome the same but the end result lies, and deceit and harassment and a mother signed away her daughter’s rights because she was told a lie.
As you read part four and Wicked Silence, Detour In 48 state singled out delinquent boys, Just carrying out Orders which focuses on how some doctors just performed the surgery as a matter of course, because they were carrying out the orders of others and really not caring about the outcome. Some, even now do not look back while others have some reservations about their actions. Church Silent Scarce Catholic no threat to North Carolina drive to sterilize using it as a way out. “Bad Girls” Indians posted a race problem for the state.
Human Betterment League was founded by James G. Hanes of Hanes Hosiery in Winston Salem to promote and foster the eugenics. Improving races by controlling hereditary factors was their goals. The end result would give power to a few that would yield what they felt were results for the good. You decide after reading it. On December 12, 2002 the article and installment was released and the end result would change things for some. The Winston Salem Journal’s Against Their Will documentary was released on 2002 based in part on the research sited in this book by Joanna Schoen. This five part series and five part book allows the reader to learn first hand about the extensive background of this board, the statistics, the stories of the victims and the historical information linking back to Post WWII.
This last part or Epilogue stars with an apology from Governor Mike Easley to victims of the policy in 2002. North Carolina was the third state to officially apologize to the victims. He also set up as the book related how to handle helping the survivors. The recommendations of the committee remained dormant or not acted upon until 2008. Not all of the victims survived the surgery. Some died. This is elaborated on in the chapter titled High Hopes pages 163-176. The remaining articles focus on Repeal of the existing Law and the unintended consequences, followed by California’s apologies and a task force formed to compensate the victims. April 25, 2012, 132 people in 51 countries have been matched to the North Carolina Eugenic program records. March 19the 2003: Panel accepts change to the law. A committee finally and unanimously approved a till to repeal a state law that allowed this happen for so many years and finally no more involuntary sterilizations for the mentally ill. What took them so long? A guardian of the mentally ill would be able to decide and petition the clerk for this operation providing a sworn statement by a doctor that the sole purpose was nor for sterilization. Read pages 187-193 to learn more.
Finally a panel was called for in order to compensate the victims. The foundation recommended that compensation be raised to 50 thousand dollars per victim. They also voted for funds to be allocated for mental health services, historical displays and exhibits documenting the history of what happened in this state. April 25th 2012: The Governor announced she would put 10.3 million dollars in per budget proposal allocated to sterilization issues. What happened cannot be changed. The victims will deal with this for the rest of their lives. The compensation will not bring back what they lost but hopefully this will never happen again. Responsibility for what happened must be taken and admitted by everyone not just Wake Forest but everyone else involved too. The research is extensive, the stories are heartfelt and compelling and the final outcomes will bring tears to your eyes. No one has the right to decide your life because of your race or economic background. This is an important issue that still needs to be addressed, looked into in other states and watched over so that it does not happen again. Public Good: Depends on whose definition.
Let’s dedicate this review to the authors of this great book, the victims, and to my grandmother Katie Goldberg who lived in Poland.