Local News

Tuskegee Experiment's Legacy: Lack of Trust

Posted Updated
The Tuskegee Experiment involved 399 African-American men.
RALEIGH — Sixty-five years after the federal governmentundertook its syphilis research project on unsuspecting African-Americanmen, President Clinton apologized to the survivors and all victims'families.

In 1932, the government recruited 399 men from an area around Tuskegee,Ala., for syphilis research. The indigent men, most of themsharecroppers, were told they were receiving free medical treatment for"bad blood." The men were not told they had syphilis, nor were they evertreated for the disease, even after penicillin was found to be a cure inthe 1940s.

The program was not known publicly until the early 70s, at which timethe survivors were treated for the disease.

The government's attitude towards the men is seen by many people as onemore example of racist policies and ofdisregard for human beings. It also has contributed to a distrust ofgovernment, according to many African-Americans.

Tangela Gray of Raleigh said the Tuskegee Experiment is but onecircumstance that demands apology. Gray believes that slavery and the rapeof black women also should be addressed.

Martesa Wills, also of Raleigh, said she feels it is part of a patternof not looking at African-Americans on the whole as "not being human, justlike animals or monkeys or something that they can just testexperimentally however they feel."

Ken Alston has been a science professor for 16 years, and says some of the concerns that African-Americans have about the government are valid.

Alston predicts that the Tuskegee Experiment will go down in history asone of the great unethical acts committed against a race.

"You have those individuals in society who will stop at nothing to gainscientific information at the expense of human suffering," Alston said.

The experiment was finally ended in the early 70s. Twenty-eight mendied from syphilis and 100 died from related illnesses. Of the eightstill alive, five of them attended Clinton's national apology ceremony.One man, Fred Simmons, said he is 110; the other men are in their 90s.

The government has paid $10 million in compensation to the victims andheirs of victims in settlement of a class-action suit. Clinton's was thefirst apology from a national leader.

In a statement issued after Clinton's apology, the National MedicalAssociation, the oldest African-American national professional medicalassociation, noted, "The legacy of this horrible experiment, which lasted40 years, continues to affect African-Americans today and has led to asense of fear and general mistrust of the medical research process and thescientific community.

"As a consequence, African-Americans continue to sufferdisproportionately from many diseases and health problems. AfricanAmericans are under-represented in clinical research, so new treatmentprotocols and health policies are based on racially biased clinicalstudies that further deny our communities the benefits of scientificadvances."

Tuskegee Institution, a historically black Alabama college, had noinvolvement with the experiments.

Copyright 2024 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.