The U.S. Health Service began a research experiment in 1932 called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Its purpose was to examine syphilis in Black sharecroppers‒who were the perfect target.
As poor and often uneducated Black men who needed their bodies to survive, the sharecroppers were vulnerable men targeted by researchers. With the help of white millionaires, the U.S. Health Service told many men they were being treated but gave them a placebo instead.
It gets worse.
Across the country, doctors had already discovered that penicillin could cure syphilis, but the government stopped the participants from getting treatment! Undiagnosed syphilis can lead to blindness, insanity, and death. And many Black lives were lost or permanently affected because of this medical genocide.
Of the original 399 men, 128 died of syphilis or syphilis-related complications. Forty wives were infected, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis during the 40-year-long study.
With the cure for syphilis in their hands for decades, the U.S. Health Service didn’t treat even ONE syphilitic person in the Tuskegee Experiment.
Today we know that these medical institutions have never cared about us. We must continue questioning their care, building our own practices, and speaking truth to power about medical racism.