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Deadly Deception

The events surrounding the Tuskegee Syphilis Study are very appalling at the very least. Staged under the guise of “effort[s] to expand activities to improve the health status of Blacks in the rural South,” the studies and testing did more to hurt this population’s health rather than help it (Thomas 1991, 2). Circumstances seem to point to conspiracy against the less educated Negroes of the area who were not aware of most health concerns when it came to syphilis. Yet, even though they seemed a prime health concern given the high rate of syphilis throughout Black men and women of all ages in the area, there is no evidence of their being reasonable enough efforts to raise awareness about the disease.

Macon County’s population was 80% Black and – as George Strait points out – by that time many of these folks were only 2 or 3 generations separated from slavery. So it can be readily assumed that economically there had not yet been enough time or progress in order to provide for important privileges such as basic health care and awareness. And there was none. Poverty was very prevalent in this community, made up mostly of sharecroppers and fieldworkers.

Syphilis had reached epidemic proportions in the county with 35% of the Black men and women being affected by the disease. So it stands to reason that the need for such health studies in the area was very high. Yet, why then, in the face of the Great Depression, were underfunded scientific studies still carried out? The health studies evolved from efforts to curb and treat syphilis into studies on the effects of the disease across racial boundaries: between White and Black. Tuskegee became a research study based primarily on questions of racial pathology. These unwitting test subjects became experimental guinea pigs in one of the most ghastly research studies known in history.

On moral grounds one has to gape at the idea of an entire group of syphilitic subjects being refused treatment based on the speculation of the disease not having effects as adverse to their as that of their White counterparts. The disease was allowed to spread and patients were led to believe that their “bad blood” was not of any drastic consequence at that point in their affliction. General medical practices for the interest of simple research were conveyed as treatment methods.

Why the deception and the deceit? Could syphilis be less severe or deadly amongst Blacks? Health awareness and treatment was withheld in the interest of scientific research, allowing syphilis to multiply and ravage the community.

More than oversight, these studies demonstrate direct disregard for both health and legal concerns having to do with proper medical procedure. The withholding of health information, treatment, and flat-out truth is something that has permeated America’s social consciousness ever since the story of Tuskegee broke 40 years after they begun. There is no way to reconcile the events with any sort of reason other than blatant use of a lesser advantaged population that would generally be ignored by the rest of the country. These studies were carried out in a pocket of the country that plainly was of no interest to anyone outside of it. This is exploitation in one of its most ugly forms. As consequence these experiments claimed the lives of unwitting “patients” who were led coaxed into cooperation under false pretenses and bold lies.

Where then is the reparation for such heinous acts? And who would be the ones to deliver it? Feelings of White against Black conspiracy have completely solid ground upon the event of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and it certainly has colored the HIV/AIDS struggle within lower income ghetto communities of the latter part of the century.

The strenuous distrust of the White establishment should have no skeptics, as many government establishments had a hand in the destructive behavior and unlawful procedure of these trials. This case is a clear example of withholding for the Black community and the savage effects it brings upon lower wage earning families who are not afforded simple privileges such as basic health care and awareness, which are essentially human rights when one speaks about it from the standpoint of equality.


Thomas, Stephen B., PhD, and James W. Curran, MD, MPH. “From Science to Conspiracy to Metaphor.” Editorial. University of Pittsburgh, Jan. 1999. Web. <>.

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