Tuskegee Experiment: The Infamous Syphilis Study

In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the study’s African American participants experienced severe health problems including blindness, mental impairment—or death.ELIZABETH NIX

The Tuskegee experiment began in 1932, at at a time when there was no known treatment for syphilis, a contagious venereal disease. After being recruited by the promise of free medical care, 600 African American men in Macon County, Alabama were enrolled in the project, which aimed to study the full progression of the disease.

The participants were primarily sharecroppers, and many had never before visited a doctor. Doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which was running the study, informed the participants—399 men with latent syphilis and a control group of 201 others who were free of the disease—they were being treated for bad blood, a term commonly used in the area at the time to refer to a variety of ailments.

Participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
The National Archives

The men were monitored by health workers but only given placebos such as aspirin and mineral supplements, despite the fact that penicillin became the recommended treatment for syphilis in 1947, some 15 years into the study. PHS researchers convinced local physicians in Macon County not to treat the participants, and instead research was done at the Tuskegee Institute. (Now called Tuskegee University, the school was founded in 1881 with Booker T. Washington at its first teacher.)

In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or insane or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis.

In the mid-1960s, a PHS venereal disease investigator in San Francisco named Peter Buxton found out about the Tuskegee study and expressed his concerns to his superiors that it was unethical. In response, PHS officials formed a committee to review the study but ultimately opted to continue it—with the goal of tracking the participants until all had died, autopsies were performed and the project data could be analyzed.

Buxton then leaked the story to a reporter friend, who passed it on to a fellow reporter, Jean Heller of the Associated Press. Heller broke the story in July 1972, prompting public outrage and forcing the study to finally shut down.

By that time, 28 participants had perished from syphilis, 100 more had passed away from related complications, at least 40 spouses had been diagnosed with it and the disease had been passed to 19 children at birth.

A man receiving treatment in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
The National Archives

In 1973, Congress held hearings on the Tuskegee experiments, and the following year the study’s surviving participants, along with the heirs of those who died, received a $10 million out-of-court settlement. Additionally, new guidelines were issued to protect human subjects in U.S. government-funded research projects.

As a result of the Tuskegee experiment, many African Americans developed a lingering, deep mistrust of public health officials and vaccines. In part to foster racial healing, President Bill Clinton issued a 1997 apology, stating, “The United States government did something that was wrong—deeply, profoundly, morally wrong… It is not only in remembering that shameful past that we can make amends and repair our nation, but it is in remembering that past that we can build a better present and a better future.”

During his apology, Clinton announced plans for the establishment of Tuskegee University’s National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care.

Herman Shaw speaks as President Bill Clinton looks on, during ceremonies at the White House on May 16, 1997. Clinton apologized to the survivors and families of the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Tuskegee wasn’t the first unethical syphilis study. In 2010, then-President Barack Obama and other federal officials apologized for another U.S.-sponsored experiment, conducted decades earlier in Guatemala. In that study, from 1946 to 1948, nearly 700 men and women—prisoners, soldiers, mental patients—were intentionally infected with syphilis (hundreds more people were exposed to other sexually transmitted diseases as part of the study) without their knowledge or consent.

The purpose of the study was to determine whether penicillin could prevent, not just cure, syphilis infection. Some of those who became infected never received medical treatment. The results of the study, which took place with the cooperation of Guatemalan government officials, were never published. The American public health researcher in charge of the project, Dr. John Cutler, went on to become a lead researcher in the Tuskegee experiments.

Following Cutler’s death in 2003, historian Susan Reverby uncovered the records of the Guatemala experiments while doing research related to the Tuskegee study. She shared her findings with U.S. government officials in 2010. Soon afterward, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued an apology for the STD study and President Obama called the Guatemalan president to apologize for the experiments.

Raw chicken, moldy bread and METAL SHAVINGS: The disgusting meals which have hospitalized Michigan National Guard troops in DC causing state lawmakers to demand a new food vendor be brought in

  • More than a dozen soldiers on deployment have become ill – with some serious enough to be hospitalized – after reportedly being given undercooked and contaminated food 
  • Soldiers have blown the whistle on the sub-par food by sharing photos of pink chicken, uncooked beef and moldy food online 
  • One staff sergeant revealed dozens of meals had to be thrown out when metal shavings were found inside
  • A group of lawmakers are demanding a new food vendor be brought in or troops be given a daily allowance
  • Almost 5,000 troops continue to guard the Capitol amid fears of a fresh siege as sources say there is intel of a militia plot to breach the Capitol on March 4
  • Some troops have been in DC for two months since the MAGA mob riot on January 6 
  • In January thousands of Guardsmen were forced to sleep on the floor of a packed parking garage 

Members of the Michigan National Guard complain they have been forced to eat raw chicken, moldy bread and meals containing metal shavings while they remain on guard in Washington DC protecting the US Capitol from attack.

More than a dozen soldiers on deployment have become ill – with some serious enough to be hospitalized – after reportedly being given undercooked and contaminated food..

Soldiers have blown the whistle on the sub-par food supplied by to troops stationed in DC by a National Guard contractor. They shared photos of pink chicken, uncooked beef and moldy food with lawmakers and online while one staff sergeant revealed dozens of meals had to be thrown out when metal shavings were found inside dishes. 

A group of bipartisan lawmakers are now demanding a new food vendor is brought in, or for troops to be given a daily allowance to buy their own food. Some are calling for guard members to be sent home altogether.

Almost 5,000 troops continue to guard the Capitol amid fears of a fresh siege as sources say there is intel of a militia plot to breach the Capitol on March 4 – the same day supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory believe Donald Trump will become president again.

For some soldiers, this means it is almost two months since they were first drafted in to the city following the MAGA mob riot on January 6 where Trump supporters broke into the Capitol in a violent siege that left five dead.  

During their time protecting the seat of American democracy, National Guard members have endured substandard conditions, including being forced to sleep outside and put at risk of COVID. 

Thousands of Guardsmen were forced to sleep on the floor of a packed parking garage back in January when they were told to stop taking their rest breaks inside the Capitol by a Capitol officer.

Meanwhile, hundreds of guard members tested positive for COVID-19 with insiders describing a failure by the National Guard to implement coronavirus testing and social distancing protocols evenly across the board. 

Uncooked meat. Members of the Michigan National Guard have been forced to eat raw chicken, moldy bread and meals containing metal shavings while they remain on guard in Washington DC protecting the US Capitol from attack
Raw chicken. More than a dozen soldiers on deployment have become ill – with some serious enough to be hospitalized – after reportedly being given undercooked and contaminated food being supplied by a contractor to all troops stationed in DC
Moldy bread. Soldiers have blown the whistle on the sub-par food by sharing photos of pink chicken, uncooked beef and moldy food with lawmakers and online

In the latest saga around the treatment of the men and women deployed to the Capitol, National Guard members are complaining the food they are being given is inedible and unsafe, reported TV6

Undercooked food left more than a dozen soldiers unwell including an unknown number who were taken to hospital as a result, one staff sergeant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told 7 Action News

The guard member said the issue is not isolated, citing multiple occasions where dozens of meals were tossed due to the discovery of raw meat or other contamination. 

Almost 75 meals were thrown out Sunday after metal shavings were found inside them while another 74 meals had raw beef in them, they said. 

Aside from the poor – and sometimes dangerous – quality, the sergeant said troops are not being given enough food, with breakfast some days consisting of just a dinner roll and Sunny D ahead of a 12-hour shift.

Many guard members are said to be resorting to buying their own food because they don’t trust the food being provided to them. 

Reports of the poor food has caused an uproar among lawmakers from both parties, with all 14 members of the Michigan Delegation in the House of Representatives sending a letter to Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Daniel R. Hokanson Tuesday.

Metal shavings. One staff sergeant revealed dozens of meals had to be thrown out when metal shavings were found inside dishes

The letter, led by Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District, demanded the National Guard void its contract with the current food supplier and either find another or for a per diem to be provided to troops. 

It was signed by Debbie Dingell, Tim Walberg, Brenda Lawrence, Jack Bergman, Haley Stevens, Fred Upton, Elissa Slotkin, John Moolenaar, Dan Kildee, Peter Meijer, Andy Levin, Lisa McClain and Rashida Tlaib.

The bipartisan group hit out at the ‘unacceptable and inadequate quality of food’ that had ‘hospitalized’ some troops. 

‘We understand that the decision was made to provide contracted meals to support the entire federal response stationed at the Capitol,’ the letter read.

‘However, it is clear that these contracted meals are poorly prepared, oftentimes inedible, and highly inadequate to support our soldiers. It is completely unacceptable that our men and women serving in Washington D.C. are being hospitalized due to the food they are being provided. 

‘As Representatives of these service members, we request that either the current contract be voided and a new food provider be brought in or that the service members be provided with a per diem throughout their remaining time in Washington, D.C.’   

Rep. Bergman said troops don’t expect a ‘5-star resort’ but what they have been served with is ‘an embarrassment’. 

‘After visiting with our Michigan Guard troops in DC, I have heard from many over the past 48 hours regarding additional issues of contaminated and undercooked food being served,’ he said, per TV6.

‘This is unacceptable. Our troops don’t demand a 5-star resort or expensive food, but at a minimum, they deserve meals that are safe to consume. 

‘This is an embarrassment for all those responsible for the care of our troops, and must be met with full accountability.’

Bergman called for the guard members to leave DC altogether saying  t is ‘time to get our troops home to their families.’ 

The Michigan National Guard released a statement saying reports of undercooked and inadequate food was ‘very concerning’ and ‘unacceptable.’

‘The Michigan National Guard finds the reports of undercooked and poorly prepared food provided to our service members in Washington, D.C. very concerning. The firsthand accounts and pictures of undercooked food being served clearly shows that what is being given to Michigan’s service members is unacceptable,’ it read.

The guard said the issue was escalated to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer who called Acting Secretary of the Army John E. Whitley ‘to communicate Michigan’s concerns’. 

‘Other Michigan senior leaders also engaged at the highest levels of the federal government to inform those in charge and to ensure that they knew of our displeasure with the conditions. Every assurance was given that the issue would be addressed and corrected,’ the statement said. 

Whitmer raised concerns about the issue almost two weeks ago on February 17 and was told it was being resolved, her office said.

But further complaints have surfaced since. 

DailyMail.com has contacted the DC National Guard for comment about how the issue is being resolved. 

Guard officials said Tuesday they were working on the matter but insisted there had only been a small number of incidents where food was uncooked, no substantiated complaints about foreign objects in food and no cases of foodborne illness reported, reported Detroit News.  

Lt. Col. Robert Carver said less than 0.01 percent of the 1.2 million meals provided between January 6 and February 18 were undercooked. 

Carver said meals were being spot checked and kitchens examined but there was no ‘substantial issues’ found so far. 

Nearly 26,000 National Guard troops were sent from all 50 states in the wake of the January 6 Capitol riot to support the Capitol Police as part of the Post Inaugural Security Mission.

The guard members from other states work under the command and control of the Washington DC National Guard, which made the decision that all troops would receive contracted meals. 

The contract was awarded and is monitored by the National Guard Bureau, according to the Michigan National Guard.  

Rep. Debbie Dingell said it is not just a problem affecting the Michigan guard members.

Issues with the quality of food comes after a backlash in January when shocking photos showed thousands of Guardsmen forced to sleep on the floor of the packed Thurgood Marshall Building parking garage and in a park outside (above)
Insiders described a failure by the National Guard to implement coronavirus testing and social distancing protocols evenly across the board. Pictured up to 5,000 troops in the garage
National Guard troops sleep on the grass on the eastern front of the US Capitol in January 

‘It’s not only a Michigan guard problem. I stop and talk to all the guard out there, and they said it’s improved, but still far from perfect,’ she said.

Thousands of troops have returned home already but around 4,900 remain in DC until at least March 12 at the request of the Capitol Police.

This includes 1,000 members from the Michigan National Guard. The agreed upon end date for their deployment is March 12.   

Issues with the quality of food comes after a backlash in January when shocking photos showed thousands of Guardsmen forced to sleep on the floor of the packed Thurgood Marshall Building parking garage and in a park outside.

Images showed troops packed inside parking garages during their rest breaks with one unit of around 5,000 forced to sleep in one garage with just one bathroom between all of them. 

Before being located to the parking lot, the troops had been allowed to take rest breaks inside the Capitol building. 

The soldiers do have hotel rooms but their 12 hour shift pattern means they cannot easily return to their rooms during rest breaks. 

They had been asked to leave the Capitol building and take their rest breaks in a nearby designated parking lot by a Capitol officer who did not have the authority to do so.  

Capitol Police apologized later and said troops could return to the Capitol after some Guardsmen said they felt ‘incredibly betrayed’.

Later that month it emerged up to 200 National Guard members had tested positive for COVID-19, while several hundred more were in quarantine in hotels after showing symptoms or being exposed to the virus. 

Insiders described a failure by the National Guard to implement coronavirus testing and social distancing protocols evenly across the board, with some troops not being tested on arrival, some receiving only temperature checks and some told to cut short quarantine or skip it entirely in order to report for duty.