For the past week and a half I have been on bed rest as I recuperate from surgery. I have snuck down occasionally to read DailyKos and other blogs, and print out various posts to read while in bed. (Someone ought to do a study of what happens when a political junkie gets sick. It isn’t pretty.)
Since the Rev. Wright controversy began in earnest I have been watching and reading and wondering why “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” clinical studies from 1932 to 1972 are not mentioned more.
Strike that. I have wondered why the experiments aren’t brought out immediately, whenever someone mentions Rev. Wright’s beliefs about HIV/AIDS.
The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male" was a clinical study conducted between 1932 – 1972. It’s subjects were 399 poor and mostly illiterate African American sharecroppers in Tuskegee, Alabama, who had Syphilis.
They were systemically, and for 40 years, denied and even blocked treatment for Syphilis, even when safe and effective treatment was available. Told only they had “bad blood,” they unknowingly infected their wives and their children.
The study itself was unethical. Even if has stayed with in it’s initial purpose, a 6 month study to see if non treatment for Syphilis was better than the toxic treatments (available in 1932), it's participates did not have or give informed consent.
To suffer and to die from Syphilis is horrific.
To read the CDC produced time line, makes the mind swim.
Our own government did this to it’s citizenry. That fact and that fact alone may be keeping many whites from believing or even remembering this dark chapter in this country’s history. It is hard to come to terms with.
But that fact and that fact alone is why many African American’s believe that our government created the AIDS virus to kill the African American community in micro and the African community in macro. Even the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) report found that among the 1056 African American member churches 1/3 of cogregants felt that that AIDS was an artificially engeered virus, and 1/3 believed that is was a form of genocide.
Research Ethics: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study remains one of the most outrageous examples of disregard of basic ethical principles of conduct (not to mention violation of standards for ethical research). In 1976, historian James Jones (1981) interviewed John Heller, director of the Venereal Diseases unit of the PHS from 1943 to 1948. Among Heller's remarks were the following: "The men's status did not warrant ethical debate. They were subjects, not patients; clinical material, not sick people" (p. 179).
The suspicion and fear generated by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study are evident today. Community workers report mistrust of public health institutions within the African American community. Alpha Thomas of the Dallas Urban League testified before the National Commission on AIDS: "So many African American people I work with do not trust hospitals or any of the other community health care service providers because of that Tuskegee Experiment" (National Commission on AIDS, 1990).
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), one of the country's major civil rights organizations, has been providing AIDS awareness education through a program called RACE (Reducing AIDS through Community Education). In 1990, the SCLC conducted a survey among 1056 African American Church members in five cities. They found that 34% of the respondents believed that AIDS was an artificial virus, 35% believed that AIDS is a form of genocide, and 44% believed that the government is not telling the truth about AIDS.
That’s only 1056 of the African American Christian churches and mosques of the many thousand in this country, in 1990. That does not take into account other religions that are predominately African American in this country like Santeria and Rastafarianism.
The 2000 census gives the African American population in this country at 36.4 million, or 12.9% of the total US population (281.4 million). This includes people who "reported Black as well as one or more other races." Could 1/3 of this population, or 4.3% believe, to this day, that the government is behind HIV/AIDS?
That's not a small number; one third of an entire minority population.
So why among all the shows I watched yesterday was Tuskegee only brought up as an answer to Rev. Wrights beliefs about HIV/AIDS on Chris Matthew's "Hard Ball?" Why was Tucker Carlson allowed to keep bringing it up, without any response, on Dan Abram's “Verdict” last night?
It is what I, as a 45 year old white American woman, screamed, cried, bellowed, impotently at my TV last night. “It’s Tuskegee!”
It’s not ancient history. The study only ended after whistle blower, Peter Buxtun, went to the Washington Star in 1972. The story was published by that paper on July 25, 1972. The next day it was the front page of the New York Times .
Rev. Wright was 30 years old.
On May 16, 1997 President Bill Clinton apologized for the Tuskegee experiments.
This is not ancient history.
To think that it would be easily wiped away from the minds of a community so used and abused is naïve.
For a right wing conservative pundit to harangue that community for not trusting their government, is absurd. To have that same conservative pundit go on and paint those who believe that the government has something to due with HIV/AIDs, as crazy at best, or fostering a lie, at worse, is to draw out, in the starkest detail the disconnect within the white community.
It’s easier to sweep it under the rug and try to forget. I think the white community has by and large, forgotten or tried minimize the lasting effects of the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”
But we need to remember.
“It’s Tuskegee!,” should be the central and continual answer when any and all pundits bring up Rev. Wright’s beliefs about HIV/AIDS. It's an answer that should be given forcefully and loudly, even if one has to interrupt.
Otherwise it is tacit approval to minimize the lasting effects of an unethical experiment that was only haulted because of a whistleblower. Without Peter Buxtun, the CDC would have allowed it to continue until the last infected African American male in the study died.
Without answering that charge it tacitly minimizes the African American experience.
Americans and their government are like twelve steppers. Every once in a while they need to do, they must, take an inventory.
Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male
U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee
The Presidential Apology
Research Ethics: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study
Updated: I forgot to add that an addtional 201 poor and mostly illiterate un-infected African American sharecroppers in Tuskegee, Alabama, were in cluded in the study as controls.