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Va. 'Regretful' on Sterilizations
By BILL BASKERVILL, Associated Press Writer
LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) - In the 1940s, the state labeled Raymond W. Hudlow a ``mental defective'' and surgically sterilized him.
Years later, his nation honored him as a war hero, awarding him the Bronze Star for valor, the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War Medal for service in World War II.
Now the Virginia General Assembly has refused to apologize to Hudlow and the more than 7,400 other Virginians sterilized under the state's eugenics program between 1924 and 1979.
``They treated us just like hogs, like we had no feelings,'' said Hudlow, now 75.
Instead, the state Senate voted Wednesday to express ``profound regret'' for the General Assembly's action 77 years ago that led to forced sterilizations. The House of Delegates already passed the resolution, and Gov. Jim Gilmore said he believes an expression of regret is sufficient.
``It seems that there's a trend in this country to rewrite history, and now we're going to go back and stir the pot on history and take some of those most unfortunate chapters in our history and relive them for no real purpose,'' Sen. Warren E. Barry said from the Senate floor.
But Hudlow says the trauma inflicted on him when he was a teen-ager in the wards of the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded has never left him. He has more flashbacks about that time than the terror of combat and imprisonment by the Germans, he said.
``I remember this just as it was yesterday,'' Hudlow said. ``It has always been in my mind. It has never left me.''
Although eugenics eventually was discredited as political and social prejudice rather than scientific fact, neither Virginia nor any of the 29 other states that conducted eugenical sterilizations has ever compensated or apologized to the more than 60,000 victims.
The Virginia law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) in 1927. That ruling, which still stands, led a federal judge in 1984 to throw out a class-action lawsuit filed by eugenics victims of the state.
Virginia's Southern aristocracy, acting under a eugenics law that served as a model for the rest of the nation - and for Adolph Hitler - tried to purify the white race from 1924 to 1979. Targeted was virtually any human shortcoming believed to be a hereditary disease that could be stamped out by surgical sterilization, such as mental illness, mental retardation, epilepsy, criminal behavior, alcoholism and immorality.
Hudlow's malady: repeatedly running away from home to avoid beatings by his father.
When his father told the ``welfare lady'' that ``he couldn't control me,'' Hudlow said, his reproductive fate was sealed. He was 16 years old.
``I was picked up by the sheriff at home. He handcuffed me and took me'' to the Colony near Lynchburg, where most of Virginia's sterilizations were performed. A county judge in 1942 granted the Colony's request to sterilize Hudlow, identified in the court order as an ``inmate'' of the Colony.
``They just came and got me before I woke up one morning. They wheeled me and throwed me up on the operating table,'' he said.
No one explained what they were doing, Hudlow said. ``The only way I found out, an employee on Ward 7 told me I wouldn't be able to father any children.''
Sixteen months after the operation, Hudlow was released from the Colony and was drafted into the Army. He served as the radioman for his platoon leader, was wounded and spent seven months in German prison camps.
Hudlow decided to make the military a career and served 21 years in the Army and Air Force.
Phil Theisen, president of the Lynchburg Depressive Disorders Association, has urged state lawmakers to make a strong, clear apology to the eugenics victims.
``This is a skeleton in the closet for Virginia that will continue to be there until it's addressed forthright,'' Theisen said. ``An apology would be a historic first, and that makes it all the more important.''
While some lawmakers supported a strong apology by the state, others, including Virginia House member Mitchell Van Yahres, said it would only draw fire.
``It carries a connotation of guilt that I don't want to be associated with,'' Van Yahres said.
On the Net:
Virginia General Assembly resolution: http://leg1.state.va.us/011/lst/LH515033.HTM
Supreme Court decision, Buck v. Bell (1927): http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/
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