The Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the US led to death of over Black men
July 25 is the 50th anniversary of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a project by the US government that let hundreds of Black men in the state of Alabama go untreated for syphilis for 40 years in order to study the impact of the disease on the human body.
The racist study was conducted between 1932 and 1972. Most of the men were denied access to penicillin, even when it became widely available as a cure, and more than 100 died as a result.
A public outcry ensued, on July 25, 1972, when Jean Heller, a reporter on The Associated Press investigative team, exposed the study. And nearly four months later, the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” came to an end.
Her discovery was based on documents leaked by Peter Buxtun, a whistleblower at the US Public Health Service.
The investigation would have far-reaching implications: The men in the study filed a lawsuit that resulted in a $10 million settlement, Congress passed laws governing how subjects in research studies were treated, and more than two decades later President Bill Clinton formally apologized for the study, calling it “shameful.”
Today, the effects of the study still linger — it is often blamed for the unwillingness of some African Americans to participate in medical research.
In observance of the 50th anniversary of Heller’s groundbreaking investigation, the AP is republishing the original report and a recent interview with her and others on how the story came together.