The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments remains one of the most appalling instances of government-sponsored mistreatment of Black people. On this day in 1972, after decades of unethical study, a whistleblower publicly exposed the experiments via a newspaper article.
The experiments began in 1932, when 600 poor sharecroppers from Macon County, Ala. were duped into thinking they were receiving treatment for “bad blood,” a vague term used for a variety of conditions, at the Tuskegee Institute. For 40 years, the U.S. Public Health Service studied the effects of untreated syphilis in those men, purposely leaving them sick.
Researchers knew that 399 of these men already had syphilis, and continued to keep them and their families in the dark about the true nature of the study. By 1947, penicillin became widely accepted as a treatment after initial studies in 1943 showed it to be effective.
However, the experiments continued, leading to the spread of the disease among the men’s families, including their children. In the end, 28 men died from syphilis, 100 died due to related issues, 40 of the wives contracted the disease, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.