Participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
The National Archives

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, also known as the Tuskegee Experiment, was a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Veterans’ Administration.

The purpose of the study was to observe the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor, rural black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government. In reality, they were being experimented on without their knowledge or consent.

The study began in 1932 when Doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service notified the 399 participants with latent syphilis and 201 others who were free of the disease—that they were being treated for bad blood, a term commonly used in that area at the time to refer to a variety of ailments. The participants who were primarily sharecroppers, and many had never before visited a doctor believed they were getting free healthcare from the US Government and they were there to help. 

National Archives

The men were monitored by health workers but only given placebos such as aspirin and mineral supplements, despite the fact that penicillin became the recommended treatment for syphilis in 1947, some 15 years into the study. PHS researchers convinced local physicians in Macon County not to treat these participants and instead research was done at Tuskegee Institute. 

In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as these men died, went blind or insane or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis. 

In 1972, a reporter named Jean Heller broke the story of the Tuskegee study Sparking public outrage.

Not one doctor was punished criminally even though the doctors involved with this study actively worked to keep these facts from the patients in order to continue collecting data on how syphilis affected black men—and how it could infect family members who weren’t even infected themselves but lived with someone who was.

This is just one example of how big government is the problem. We need to honor these men the same way we honor other victims of mass murder and genocide and not have the Director of the CDC praising the anniversary of this genocide. “we honor the 623 African American men, their suffering & sacrifice, and our commitment to ethical research and practice.” The implication that the Tuskegee Experiment was ethical is abhorrent and shows the lack of humanity at the CDC. 


Thus we need to ensure our medical autonomy and that there are consequences for killing human beings even if it’s in the name of ethical research and practice..