NAACP seeks to extend deadline for eugenics claims

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — North Carolina's NAACP chapter and others are calling on legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory to extend Monday's deadline for victims of the state's 20th century eugenics program to formally apply for compensation.

The civil rights organization and the Forward Together Moral Movement involved in recent demonstrations in Raleigh want the legislature to push back the deadline by another year until June 30, 2015. That's the same date in which the legislature directed payments to qualified applicants from a $10 million fund. State law set Monday's deadline.

The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said that the state hasn't done a good enough job with reaching out to survivors of the program, in which the state sterilized what it considered inferior citizens incapable of caring for children.

"We shouldn't have a deadline that would victimize them more," Barber said in an open letter first released over the weekend. "There was no arbitrary deadline for the eugenics program."

Some 7,600 others were sterilized from 1929 to 1974 under the state's program, but only a fraction are still alive. Most were either forced or coerced into the procedure, though a small number of people chose to be sterilized. As of last week, about a third of the estimated living victims had submitted claims.

The deadline for victims to file a claim was set for 5 p.m., although Chris Mears, a spokesman for the state department that houses the Office for Justice of Sterilization Victims, said it would accept mail postmarked by Monday. Mears said state law would have to be changed or a judge would have to sign an order to shift the deadline.

The House version of the budget passed in June would accelerate the first payment date. Extending the deadline would jeopardize that effort, said Anna Roberts, spokeswoman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.

"Extending the deadline would delay the payment to some qualified recipients," Roberts wrote in an email. She said the sterilization victims' office had sent "direct mail pieces, made hundreds phone calls and partnered with other agencies to attempt to reach as many victims as possible ... It's time for the qualified recipients to receive their compensation."

Officials for Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Monday.

House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, filed a bill this year to extend the claim-filing period, but no action has been taken on the measure.

Barber's letter questions the state's commitment to making amends with victims of the decades-long sterilization program.

"If state legislators work to extend this deadline, they will show they are serious about making amends," the letter said. "If they do not, we will know that this restitution program is merely a political ploy to get political points in an election year."

McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said Monday the governor is proud to be from the first state in the nation that will address the injustice that was committed against eugenics victims. "This claim is another example of Rev. Barber seeking to make a last-minute political statement instead of assisting some of the very people he is charged to help," Ellis said.

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