In the 1940s, the state of Virginia sterilized 7,325 people under a cruel law preventing people with mental illness, developmental disabilities or epilepsy from having children in hopes of creating an “American master race.”
Now, eugenics survivors like E. Lewis Reynolds are seeking compensation from the state for denying them the joy of children.
“I’d like to see them do something for me, because I always wanted a family, too. Just like anybody else. All my brothers got family, and I got none.”
Dr. Joseph DeJarnette, a Western State Hospital superintendent in the 20th century, promoted compulsory sterilization with the reasoning it would “save Virginia millions of dollars.” He also once compared humans to cattle, arguing they should only breed “good stock.”
Other apparent eugenics supporters included Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger:
Sanger stringently pushed a policy of the government compensating poor citizens in exchange with a poor person’s agreement to be sterilized as a means of population control. “In this way,” Sanger said, “the moron and the diseased would have no posterity to inherit their condition.”
Unfortunately, DeJarnette and Sanger both failed to realize the potential of every human life.
While North Carolina recently passed a law to give out $10 million in reparations to eugenics survivors, the state of Virginia has rejected similar legislation because it doesn’t have the money, according to opponents. The state’s Department of Planning and Budget estimated that 1,465 affected Virginians could be alive, equaling a compensation cost of nearly $73.3 million.
Nonetheless, lawmakers are determined to seek justice for those who were treated so unjustly. One man behind the effort to provide these Virginians compensation is Mark Bold, the executive director of the Christian Law Institute.
During the 2013 legislative session, Bold worked with Del. Robert Marshall, R-Prince William, and Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, — a pairing of one of the most conservative lawmakers with one of the most liberal — to seek compensation of $50,000 per person.
“We have a new governor and that makes me optimistic,” Hope said in an email. “But as with anything that costs money, it will be a heavy lift in a tight budget environment.”
A heavy lift it may be, but one perhaps well worth it, especially when considering the nightmares people like Mary Shirkey experienced:
Mary Shirkey, 64, who said she was institutionalized because of seizures and apparently because of a severe speech defect that hampered her schooling, recalled being sent to the “blind room” for violating the rules. There were no lights and no bathroom facilities in the room, where a patient might be locked up for hours.
No dollar amount could replace the children these eugenics survivors will never have, yet some recognition from the state may be due these victims after being literally scarred for life.
If the bipartisan effort succeeds, payments would be distributed in June 2015.
“Virginia has a moral obligation to rectify this profound wrong,” Marshall said. “If you did a moral wrong, you have to do a moral right.”