Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

APR

“I hurt so bad, and I just stayed in bed like, for years I stayed in bed. I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t wait on myself.”

We’re sitting at the dining table with Fay. She asked us not to use her real name. During our visit, one of her favorite songs plays in the background on an old portable CD player. Fay is seventy two and following her first ever mammogram in the year 2000, she found she had breast cancer.

“And then they told me I had the worst kind," says Faye. "And, I said ‘cancer? What is the worst kind? It’s bad no matter you look at it.”

Stan Ingold / Alabama Public Radio

All year long at Alabama Public Radio, we’ve been looking at rural health. Many of the challenges residents of these communities face are a lack of doctors and hospitals, and the money to pay for care. For many African-Americans in Alabama, a lack of trust of outsiders and the government. This issue can be traced back to a study conducted by the U.S. government on black men living around Tuskegee. This year marks a twenty year milestone in a federal study of syphilis which still resonates across the country.

Tomorrow marks 20 years since President Bill Clinton formally apologized on behalf of the U.S. government for the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

The purpose of this study was to observe the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African-American men in Alabama. The study began in 1932 and lasted until 1972, after a whistleblower exposed information about the research to the press and prompted the government to shut down the program.