8News Investigates: Unfit to Breed

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RICHMOND (WRIC)—Virginia lawmakers going into session this week are facing renewed pressure to compensate survivors of the Commonwealth's efforts to create a super race, survivors who were once deemed unfit to reproduce and sterilized against their will.

Marines have a saying: once a Marine, always a marine. Lewis Reynolds served our nation in uniform for 30 years, fighting in both Korea and Vietnam.

“I love my country,” Reynolds said. “I fought for it and I'd still fight for it again. I thank the good Lord that [I] served my country, and I thank him for letting me live as long as I have.”

But now, the 86-year-old Marine is at the center of a new fight—to right a wrong that has forced him to spend his remaining years all alone.

“I see people walking around here with their kids, and sometimes I cry, because I ain't got none,” Reynolds said. “People don't understand my feelings.”

To begin to understand what happened to Reynolds and thousands of others, it is necessary start in 1924, when the infamous Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act was passed. It was based on the now-discredited science of eugenics, which had the stated goal of ridding society of those considered defective—those whose offspring might burden society; those with “unfit human traits.”

Virginia Law declared, Insanity, idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy and crime could be influenced by heredity, and allowed the compulsory sterilization of those confined to state institutions.

As a child, Reynolds was mistakenly diagnosed as an epileptic. His medical records 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.”

Reynolds said, “Took my rights away of having a family, and have children and grandchildren where they can watch over me when I got older.”

State records show that Virginia sterilized 7,259 people like Lewis Reynolds between 1924 and 1979.

“These people here operated on me for no reason whatsoever,” Reynolds said. “They didn't have to operate on me.”

Anna Seal, too, was a victim.

“I cried when I got sterilized,” Seal said. “Couldn't have no kids. I love kids myself, but I couldn't have none.”

Janet Ingram and her sisters were also sterilized under the law.

“Yeah, all of us,” Ingram said. “I have four sisters; all of us was done.”

Mark Bold, the executive director of the Christian Law Insitute, has been trying to find and assist those affected by the Eugenics law.

“When you take a look at this harm, the harm was so egregious, that it sought to eliminate entire classes of persons,” Bold said. “We should do something about it.”

Bold is working with the unlikely political pairing of liberal Democrat Patrick Hope and conservative Republican Bob Marshall.

“When Delegate Marshall and I agree on anything, people ought to take notice,” Hope said.

Despite failing last session, the delegates are reintroducing the Justice for Victims of Sterilization Act, which would provide $50,000 to each living victim in Virginia. Critics have balked at the cost, claiming the state doesn't have the money, while lawmakers here in the Commonwealth have failed to take action during the last General Assembly session. Just to our south, North Carolina passed a law in 2013 to compensate the citizens it forcibly sterilized.

“North Carolina has adopted a bill that would provide $10 million to their citizens, and yet again we haven't done anything,” Bold said.

With lawmakers now back in Richmond for the start of the General Asembly session, the Commonwealth's sterilization victims can only hope Virginia will follow North Carolina's example.

“I didn't want to have it done,” Seal said. “I didn't want to have it done.”

“I don't even want to think about it sometimes, [if] I be honest with you,” Reynolds said.

In 2002, then-Governor Mark Warner officially apologized for the selective breeding policies. As Virginia swears in a new governor this Saturday, many eyes will be watching to see if Terry McAuliffe and the 2014 General Assembly will offer up more than words.  

The Christian Law Institute is still working to determine just how many of these Virginia sterilization victims are still living. So far that number is right around a dozen. They're asking potential victims to contact them.

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If you have a story for Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe to look into, email him at AJInvestigates@wric.com, or find him on Facebook or Twitter (@AJInvestigates).

 

Copyright 2014 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond

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