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Lynchburg The News & Advance.com: Funds sought for eugenics victims Print


Created:  Wednesday, August 8, 2012

When his law school class studied the case of a teenager who was involuntarily sterilized after giving birth out of wedlock, Mark Bold realized, "this happened in our backyard."

Bold, who is in his third year at Liberty University's law school, wondered if anybody was doing anything about the case, known as Buck v.Bell.

It began 85 years ago in Madison Heights.

This week, Bold teamed up with Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, in an effort to persuade Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly to approve symbolic payments to the still-living Virginians who were victims of a misguided pseudo-science called eugenics.

Bold is working with a nonprofit group called the Christian Law Institute to persuade victims of the practice to step forward and tell their stories to today's lawmakers and news media.

The institute is an educational, research and policy group that Bold describes as a think tank. He said it has 11 members, most of whom are lawyers, legal scholars, former judges, or law students.

Although the group is using a postal box in Forest, it doesn't have an actual office.

They're not looking for money, Bold said.

"What we proposing is some relief" for the injustice of sterilizing people who in most cases didn't realize what was happening to them, Bold said.

Friday is the 85th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Buck v.Bell decision, which upheld Virginia's 1924 eugenics sterilization law. Eugenics programs sought to prevent reproduction among people who were deemed genetically unfit.

The case became the basis for sterilization programs in about 30 states, and also in Nazi Germany. Defendants in the Nuremburg war crimes trial cited the Virginia law in their defense.

Nearly 8,000 residents of Virginia mental-health institutions were sterilized between 1924 and 1979, when the practice was outlawed.

Then-Gov. Mark Warner apologized to the victims in 2002, and Hope and Bold cite Warner's action as precedent for seeking a form of closure for the surviving victims.

Nearly 3,000 of the Virginia sterilizations occurred at the Central Virginia Training Center in Madison Heights.

One of the earliest victims was Carrie Buck, an 18-year-old unwed mother who was sterilized after giving birth at what is now CVTC.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Virginia law in 1927, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of Buck, her mother, and her daughter, Vivian: "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

The Christian Law Institute worked to persuade the North Carolina legislature to approve $50,000 payments to that state's sterilization victims this year, but the measure was defeated in the state Senate for budgetary reasons, Bold said.

The institute also will also make an effort in West Virginia next winter to get the state's legislature to repeal a sterilization law that is still on its books, Bold said.