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Out of the more than 7,000 Virginians who were involuntarily sterilized by the state between 1924 and 1979, only 11 are still alive. On Thursday, the Virginia General Assembly agreed to give each survivor $25,000.
The Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act aimed to "improve the genetic composition of humankind by preventing those considered 'defective' from reproducing," The Associated Press reports. The legislation served as a model for other states and Nazi Germany, and across the country, 65,000 Americans were sterilized in 33 states. Virginia's eugenics law was upheld in the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. writing for the majority, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."
In Virginia, six state institutions conducted the sterilizations. Lewis Reynolds, 87, was sterilized at the Virginia Colony for the Epileptic and Feeble Minded when he was 13; they thought he had epilepsy, but he just had temporary symptoms after being hit in the head with a rock. The retired Marine didn't discover he had been sterilized until he was married and trying to start a family with his first wife, who ended up leaving him once she found out he couldn't have children. "I think they done me wrong," he told AP. "I couldn't have a family like everybody else does. They took my rights away."
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