Participants in the Tuskegee syphilis study. National Archives
The experiment added to the deep distrust many African Americans have toward the federal government and its medical research that lingers to this day. The rap artist C.L. Smooth referenced the experiment in a 1992 song. A 1997 HBO film “Miss Evers’ Boys” told the story of the study. It was mentioned during a 2015 episode of the sitcom “Blackish.” A December 2017 Pew poll found just 15% of blacks trust the government in Washington all or most of the time, lower than any other racial group.
The men volunteered for treatment at what was then called the Tuskegee Institute for what was described at the time as “bad blood.” They received free medical exams and free meals. Physicians gave the men aspirin, although penicillin became widely used treatment for syphilis in the mid 1940s. Many doctors involved in the study insisted they were doing well-meaning research. They published 13 articles about Tuskegee in medical journals over the years.
Some of the physicians involved in Tuskegee also took part in similar experiments in Guatemala, infecting prisoners and mental patients with syphilis in the mid-1940s. In 2010, then-President Barack Obama apologized for the experiments in that nation.
In 1974, the government reached a $10 million settlement with the Tuskegee victims and their families and offered to provide medical benefits. The U.S. government ordered new guidelines to protect human subjects in government-funded research projects.
Clinton announced plans in 1997 to create Tuskegee University’s National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care.
Herman Shaw, a Tuskegee Syphillis Study victim, smiles after receiving an official apology from President Bill Clinton in 1997. Associated Press
Study participant Herman Shaw, two days shy of 95, spoke at the White House the day Clinton issued the apology.
“We were treated unfairly, to some extent like guinea pigs,” Shaw said.
The last Tuskegee study participant died in January 2004.
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
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