Lewis Reynolds didn't understand what had been done to him when he was 13.
Years later, after getting married, the Lynchburg man discovered he couldn't father children. The reason: He had been sterilized by the state.
Reynolds was among more than 7,000 Virginians involuntarily sterilized between 1924 and 1979 under the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act.
Advocates for the surviving victims won a three-year fight Thursday when the Virginia General Assembly budgeted $400,000 to compensate them at the rate of $25,000 each.
Eugenics is the now-discredited movement that sought to improve the genetic composition of humankind by preventing those considered "defective" from reproducing. Virginia's Sterilization Act became a model for similar legislation passed around the country and the world, including Nazi Germany. Nationwide, 65,000 Americans were sterilized in 33 states, including more than 20,000 in California alone, said Mark Bold, executive director of the Christian Law Institute, which has been advocating the cause of the Virginia victims since 2013.
Virginia is the second state to approve compensation for victims of the eugenics program. North Carolina approved payments of $50,000 for each victim in 2013.
But the money from the state comes too late for most of those who were sterilized in Virginia, Bold said. There are only 11 known surviving victims, he said. Two have died in the past year, he said. Those who are left greeted the news with tears and hugs, Bold said.
The Virginia sterilizations were performed at six state institutions, including what is now known as Central Virginia Training Center in Lynchburg. When Reynolds was sterilized there, it was called the Virginia Colony for the Epileptic and Feeble Minded.
The original legislation called for payments of $50,000 each. Even that amount was inadequate to address the wrong that was done, in Bold's view.