RALEIGH — The woman who led the North Carolina foundation that advocated compensation for victims of the state’s forced sterilization program since its inception is stepping down to take a new job.
Charmaine Fuller Cooper’s last day as executive director of the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation was Thursday, said Jill Lucas, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, which oversees the foundation. Cooper has accepted a job with the American Heart Association in Research Triangle Park.
Elaine Riddick of Atlanta, who was raped and then sterilized after giving birth to a son when she was 14, said she doesn’t believe anyone can fill Cooper’s shoes.
“Charmaine has been a great help to the victims,” she said. “Unfortunately, if they have a replacement, and I don’t even think they’re going to get a replacement, I think North Carolina just wants to be done with this. If they do decide to get someone, they will not be as effective as Charmaine. She showed empathy toward the victims. She cared about the victims.”
Cooper, of Durham, took over the foundation on March 1, 2010. She led the foundation as a panel recommended compensation of $50,000 to victims of North Carolina’s sterilization program. Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people whom the state deemed “feeble-minded” or otherwise undesirable. Many were poor, black women.
The compensation bill had bipartisan backers, with both Gov. Beverly Perdue and the Republican-led House supporting it. But the Senate refused to consider the bill, saying the state didn’t have the money in a tight budget year to compensate for decades-old wrongs. Had the bill passed, North Carolina would have been the first in the nation to compensate victims of forced sterilization.
The foundation has verified more than 160 victims, most of them still living, and estimates that up to 1,800 victims are still alive.
An administrative support staffer has returned to the foundation but is not the executive director, Lucas said. Lucas did not respond when asked who would supervise the foundation’s work and declined to name the former staff member who will work for it again. She said the foundation will continue working with citizens who believe they were forcibly sterilized.
“It’s business as usual,” she said in an email.
N.C. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said he believed the state will name another executive director once the right person is found. The Legislature appropriated enough money for that position for another year, he said.
“I think we’ll be able to continue with those efforts,” he said. “Certainly, we need to get somebody in that position as quickly as possible.”
House Speaker Thom Tillis, who favored the compensation, has said he wants the Legislature to reconsider the issue next year. Administration Department Secretary Moses Carey Jr. expressed the same sentiment Thursday.
“The foundation’s efforts to connect more victims with their records is ongoing, and we remain optimistic that lawmakers will revisit compensation and operational funding next year,” he said.