I live outside Asheville, North Carolina. We haven’t been getting good press in this neck of the woods lately, and it breaks my heart for people to think that all the people who live here are bigots and rednecks.
I picked up one of my favorite books yesterday as a kind of escape from all the political drama over these past few weeks. How many of you know about the Eugenics Board of North Carolina?
Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain talks about the time period when public welfare agencies and institutions could petition to have individuals sterilized in an effort to combat poverty and welfare costs. It sounds horribly Nazi-like, doesn’t it? The Eugenics Board was in operation from 1933 until the law allowing its existence was repealed in 1977.
I grew up in South Carolina, and I was ten when the Eugenics Board was abolished. I had never heard of it, and I’m thankful that I hadn’t. Apparently the voluntary sterilization laws stayed on the books here until 2003. In 2013, legislation was passed to allow for compensation of people who were sterilized during this time period. I’m not sure how many people came forward to claim that compensation, though.
I’ve read a few fictional stories based on people who were sterilized against their will and sometimes without their knowledge. If you were poor or disabled or “troubled” or even “promiscuous,” you were in danger of being sterilized. Parents could give permission to have their children sterilized, and often they were forced to do so to keep their welfare benefits from being terminated. Those that knew they had been sterilized often had no idea that the procedure was permanent and could not be reversed.
Since you’ll be reading this on Mother’s Day, I want you to remind you to be extra grateful if you’re a parent or if you’re not, to be grateful for your parents. I hope you remember to be glad to have a choice in whether you can be a parent.
Most of all, though, I have a message for those of us who feel frustrated and hopeless about what’s going on in our political world these days. One day people will look back at this and think, “How could we possibly have allowed these people to lead us? How could we allow these things to happen?”
I’m here to tell you, I believe that one day this too will pass. I have to believe that’s true. Yes, our system is broken; but one day soon we’ll get that hope and change. Maybe it won’t be from a political party or a particular individual. Maybe it will come from within our society. Maybe it will come from people actually being the change they want to see.
Maybe it will come from God.