Blogs > HNN > Pastor Wright's wrong about the Tuskegee experiments

May 4, 2008 11:39 pm

Pastor Wright's wrong about the Tuskegee experiments

Wright says the US government “purposely infected African-American men with syphilis.” This is a lie, and no historian says otherwise. Yet, this untruth pops up routinely.

What the US did at Tuskegee was indeed bad, very bad. But it didn’t do what these people say it did.
So what did happen? In 1932, public-health researchers set out to study syphilis, particularly among African-Americans, who had higher infection rates than whites. They recruited 399 black men who already had syphilis. The doctors infected no one. The patients were selected because they were tertiary-stage syphilitics who were no longer contagious.

The researchers studied the progress of the disease, without treating it, for 40 years.
Prior to the availability of penicillin in the ’40s and ’50s, the researchers couldn’t have treated the men. Even after standardized penicillin treatments were available, it wasn’t clear that the patients could have been helped.

Among scholars who’ve studied Tuskegee, there’s a lot of debate about how much - if any - racism was involved. But no one disputes that Tuskegee had nothing to do with genocide or even a desire to spread the disease among the black population.

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