Elaine Riddick, unknowingly sterilized by the North Carolina Board of Eugenics in 1968, still has not forgiven the state of North Carolina for its role in the sterilization program.
In 1968, according to Winston-Salem Journal, the Perquimans County Department of Public Welfare took custody of Elaine Riddick and her seven siblings. Five were sent to live in an orphanage, and Riddick and her sister were sent to live with their grandmother, Maggie “Miss Peaches” Woodard. While living with Woodard, an older man raped the young girl.
During a routine visit, Woodard’s social worker learned that Riddick was pregnant. The social worker pressured Woodard for consent to sterilize her granddaughter and threatened to send Riddick to an orphanage if she did not comply. Woodard, who was illiterate, unwittingly signed an “X” on the consent form.
As part of a preliminary step in the sterilization process, psychologist Helton McAndrew conducted an IQ evaluation. Riddick scored a seventy-five. Even though she scored above 70, her economic status, according to the Winston-Salem Journal, played a prominent role in the psychologist’s findings. The psychologist used her poor upbringing to determine that she was feeble-minded. The five member Board of Eugenics used the psychologist’s findings as justification for sterilization. They also used false accusations of her being promiscuous.
After she gave birth to her son, Tony Riddick, she was sterilized without her knowledge. Soon after given birth, she moved to Long Island, New York, to live with her aunt, and left her son with her grandmother. When Riddick married at eighteen and tried to conceive, she learned from her doctor the she had been sterilized.
With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, Riddick filed a suit against the members of the Eugenics Board and asked for one million dollars in damages. She argued that her constitutional rights had been violated. The jury, however, found that she was not unlawfully or wrongfully deprived of her right to bear children as result of the members of the Board of Eugenics.
John Railey and Kevin Begos. “Against Their Will: North Carolina’s Sterilization Program.” Winston-Salem Journal, 8-12 December 2002. Electronic access: http://extras.journalnow.com/againsttheirwill/ (accessed July 6, 2009).
By Adrienne Dunn, North Carolina History Project
See Also:Related Categories: Women, African American