8News Investigates: Virginia's History Of Forced Sterilization - ABC 8NEWS - WRIC | Richmond, Virginia News & Weather

8News Investigates: Virginia's History Of Forced Sterilization

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Watch Gov. McDonnell's response when 8News Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe asked him about forced sterilization in Virginia here, and watch Part II of A.J.'s investigation tonight at 11, only on 8News.

RICHMOND, VA—Deemed unfit to reproduce, thousands of young children were forcibly sterilized during the last century here in Virginia. Now there's a push for the living victims to be compensated by the Commonwealth.

Eugenics, sterilizations, a master race: these terms are associated with Nazi Germany, but years before Hitler came to power, right here in Virginia thousands of citizens were sterilized without their consent.

"I don't know why they took my rights away from me to have children. I didn't understand it and I didn't know what was going on," says sterilization victim Lewis Reynolds.

Reynolds recently talked to 8News investigative report A.J. Lagoe, taking him along on a painful journey to the scene of a place where his life was changed forever.

Now 85, Reynolds was just 13 when his father sent him to what was then known as the Lynchburg Colony for Epileptics and the Feeble Minded. He'd been hit in the head with a rock, and was having seizures.

Doctors at the colony diagnosed Reynolds as epileptic, and under the infamous 1924 Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act, doctors declared Reynolds a "mental defective," and forcibly sterilized him for "the welfare of society."

Official medical forms 8News uncovered show other reasons for forcible sterilization included being insane, idiotic, an imbecile or feeble-minded.

Doctors believed Reynolds had epilepsy, but it turns out Reynolds's seizures were just his brain's way of recovering.

The Lynchburg Colony, now known as the Central Virginia Training Center, was ground zero for Virginia's sterilization program. Some 2,855 forced sterilizations were performed there between 1924 and 1979.

But the compulsory surgeries were also performed at state hospitals in Petersburg, Williamsburg, Staunton and Marion, all in an effort of creating as the Danville-Bee reported it a "super-race" by sterilizing those deemed unfit to reproduce.

Reynolds' medical records from the colony describe him as "quiet, friendly and fairly intelligent," but they go on to say "sterilization is indicated as it will take a big burden off him in the future."

"It didn't make any sense to me, but that's what they done to me," Reynolds said.

And it didn't just happen to Reynolds, but to nearly 8,000 others between the years 1924 and 1979. State records show that during that time period, Virginia robbed 7,259 people of the ability to have children.

Anna Seal was sterilized August 2nd 1967, when she was 18. "They told me I had to be sterilized," she recounts. "I cried and got upset; I didn't want to have it done, I didn't want to have it done."

The state set up bogus hearings with phony advocates for the patients to authorize the operations. Lewis Reynolds didn't even know he had an advocate until traveling with 8News to the Amherst County Courthouse and poring over old records "I was only 13, and I didn't understand what was going on," he said.

The victims were told they needed an operation for their health, often being threatened that they couldn't go home unless they had one.

Virginia's sterilization law was based on what is now recognized as phony science called "eugenics."

The 1920s through the 1950s were the heyday of the eugenics movement in the United States. The stated goal was to rid society of those considered defective, with "unfit human traits," basically meaning anyone whose offspring might burden society.

"These are individuals who were sterilized against their will," said Mark Bold the executive director of the Christian Law Institute. "They didn't do anything wrong, it was simply because they were poor and on the welfare dime, if you will."

Thirty-three sates had sterilization laws. Nationwide 60,000 people were sterilized by force, with California performing the most sterilizations, 20,308. Virginia was second only to only California in the number of operations performed.

Virginia's sterilization law was the model many other states followed after it was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell in 1927.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the majority in the landmark case, said of the decision "it is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind, three generations of imbeciles are enough."

Adolf Hitler took notice, and Virginia's eugenics model was adopted when the 3rd Reich came to power.

"We tend to think it was Germany's idea.. Hitler's idea…3rd Reich's idea, that we would do such harm to individuals that we would want to eliminate them because they're considered inadequate," said Bold. "It started here in Virginia and in fact, Germany during the Nuremburg trials cited Buck v. Bell as their defense."

The Buck v. Bell Supreme Court ruling is still on the books—it has never been overturned.

In 2002, then-Gov. Mark Warner officially apologized for the selective breeding policies, but not one dime has ever been paid in reparations.

Lewis Reynolds went on to serve his country for more than 30 years in Korea and Vietnam. Now, he is leading the charge, asking Virginia lawmakers to provide compensation for the living victims of the Commonwealth's quest for a master race.

While most democrats are behind the effort, a number of republican lawmakers are balking, causing Del. Bob Marshall of the 13th district to call out his own party.

"The biggest objections are coming from the republicans and some of them wonder why this party looks to be callous and indifferent to human concerns…well, because, that's how they're acting," said republican Del. Marshall.

"When Delegate Marshall and I agree on anything, people aught to take notice this is a non-partisan issue," said democratic Del. Patrick Hope of the 47th district.

Under the bill proposed by delegates Marshall and Hope, each living victim would be paid $50,000out of surplus funds—meaning if the state doesn't have left over money, the victims don't get paid. "It simply asks if a surplus is recognized that we earmark a portion of this to pay off this debt," said Del. Patrick Hope.

On last Thursday, the Virginia House of Delegates essentially killed the bill to compensate sterilization victims, but they did so with what one delegate called "a chicken's way out."

Instead of going on the record as either for it or against it, the politicians voted to "pass it by" a parliamentary maneuver that basically lets the bill die on the vine, a move many are calling callous and dismissive of the irreparable harm Virginia's law caused.


Link to Eugenics order
Link to Danville-Bee article on Eugenics
Link to Eugenics summary

Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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