20 Photos from the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

CDC

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, also known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was a clinical study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service between 1932 and 1972. The purpose of the study was to observe the natural progress of untreated syphilis in rural African-American men. The patients were told that they were receiving free health care from the United States Government.

The Public Health Service, in collaboration with the historically black college Tuskegee University, enrolled 600 African American sharecroppers. 399 of these men had been previously diagnosed with syphilis. The subjects were given free medical care, meals, and free burial insurance for participating in the study. When funding was cut, the experiment continued without telling the subjects that they would never receive treatment.

In 1947, penicillin had become the standard treatment for penicillin. The scientists elected to withhold treatment. The scientists also prevented the participants from accessing syphilis treatment available to the other members of the community.

The study continued until 1972, when the experiment was leaked to the press by Peter Bruxton. The test was terminated on November 16, 1972. Many men had died, 40 wives contracted the disease, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.

Because of the experiment, Congress passed the National Research Act and created a commission to study write regulations governing studies involving human experiments. The Office for Human Research Protections was established to oversee clinical trials. Now studies require informed consent, communication of diagnosis, and accurate reporting of test results. In 1997, President Bill Clinton formally apologized and held a ceremony for White House for surviving participants.

Portrait of Dr. Taliaferro Clark, 1932. Clark founded the Public Health Service. He disagreed with the extended experiment and quit a year after it started. National Archive
‘Colored People, Bad Blood, Free Blood Test, Free Treatment,’ campaign flyer, ca. 1930s. tuskegeestudy
Participants in the Tuskegee Experiments were told they were getting treatment from the U.S. Public Health Service. They were not. National Archives
They died of syphilis even though the disease had long been under control. Pinterest
A pharmacist in 1945 posts a sign informing his customers of the availability of penicillin. Some of the Tuskegee subjects obtained penicillin through outside doctors. Bettman:Corbis 1945
A Tuskegee study subject undergoes a spinal tap to obtain spinal fluid for neurosyphilis testing. The subjects were duped into agreeing to the painful and dangerous procedure. CDC
A man is tested for syphilis in 1935. © Arthur Rothstein:Corbis
A U.S. public health worker drawing blood from a man as part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Encyclopedia Britannica
An unidentified woman is tested for syphilis. Women were tested in order to allay fears that the Tuskegee study was merely a ploy to lure black men into the armed forces. National Archives 1932
Blood samples being collected, 1932. National Archives
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