The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male has long passed into story and legend as one of the ultimate crimes perpetrated by the American White Racist Establishment against African-Americans.
And it's a story and legend that has been in the news, lately, since the very Reverend Jeremiah Wright likes to cite Tuskegee as evidence that the U.S. government would be willing to do almost anything to hurt African Americans - like, for instance, inventing the AIDS virus in a CIA laboratory and then siccing it on the black community.
Wikipedia offers the standard narrative.
But in 2004, Richard A Shweder, the William Claude Reavis Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Human Development at the University of Chicago, published a remarkable essay: Tuskegee Reexamined - from which one can only conclude that the standard narrative is pretty much totally wrong.
Since I'm a lazy sot, and since I don't believe in reinventing the wheel, I'm not going to offer my own summary. Instead, I'm going to quote somebody else's:
"The study was undertaken by progressives who wanted to fight a disease that afflicted many blacks, it had the full support of black medical authorities to the end, and—most important—it probably caused no harm to the 140 men (not 400) who took part.
"The U.S. Public Health Service started the study in 1932 in Macon County, Alabama, where syphilis rates for blacks ranged between 20 and 36 percent.
"At the time, there were a number of treatments for the disease but they were complicated, disagreeable, and not very effective...fully 85 percent of patients dropped out before treatment was complete. Of the 15 percent who stuck it out, few were cured.
"Public health officials knew they needed better drugs. But they also needed a baseline to which they could compare the results of treatment. This was why they wanted to know what happens if there was no treatment...
"...syphilis is not always the raging killer most of us think it is. First of all, it is only in the early stages of the disease, when sores appear on the body, that it is contagious...After that, syphilis goes into a latent state, in which there are no symptoms, and the patient is not infectious...for perhaps 80 percent of syphilitics, the disease stays latent, as if they never had it. The longer the disease is latent, the longer it is likely to stay that way...
"It was this latent stage that health authorities wanted to investigate in 1932. Consequently, when they examined 410 syphilitic blacks for possible inclusion in the study, they found many were in the early, infectious stage, and rejected them as candidates. They turned over no fewer than 178 for the standard arsenic treatment, and kept 140 for the study...
"A black nurse named Eunice Rivers ran the program...
"The outset of the program was therefore entirely unobjectionable. The men had already entered the latency stage of syphilis, for which the standard and largely ineffective cure of the day was no good at all. Foregoing that was no hardship, and in exchange they got free medical checkups and the benefits of Nurse Rivers' kind attention. The authorities at Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute blessed the study...
"By the mid-1950s, however, penicillin became available as a standard cure for syphilis. Should not the Public Health Service have stopped the study and treated the men? Wasn't it 'racist' not to?
"No. By the 1950s, the men had been infected for 20 to 25 years. Some number had died of heart disease probably brought on by tertiary syphilis, but for those who were still alive in the 1950s, the disease had very likely run its course. Ninety men were still part of the program at the time of the last examination in 1963. Penicillin treatment, even when it first became available, would probably have done them no good..."
And so on.
Please do read the whole thing.
Bottom line: The Tuskegee Study was a reasonably defensible liberal project with lots of black staffing. Present-day liberals and African-American preachers who continue to parrot the standard narrative should not be trusted.
They're a-dodgin' for your dime.