Q. Was the Tuskegee Community Aware of the Study?

A. Yes, local African American and white physicians were recruited to not treat the men. Autopsy and physician assessments were done at local hospitals. Many Tuskegee Institute (now known as Tuskegee University) faculty and staff were involved in the study. (CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

By Lisa Rose-Rodriguez

The words guinea pigs, experiments, and racism can all be wound up into one societal tangle for African-Americans.

Remember the Tuskegee experiment?

The formal title was the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”  The ‘study‘ began in 1932 and was conducted by the Public Health Service. The roughly 400 men enrolled in the study who had already contracted Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, were not given the proper treatment, even when penicillin became available. https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm

Retrospection allows the curious reader to recognize the immorality and racism that created and prolonged this inhumane medical experiment. Eventually, the descendants were awarded a 10-million-dollar settlement – 40 years later.

This is just one salient reason for the historical suspicion among African-Americans. Tuskegee is a historically black college established in 1881. Meharry, the nearby HBCU Medical School was actually established before Tuskegee (1876.) The historically black atmosphere should have been fostering, and not detrimental to those who trusted these institutions.

Dr. James E. K. Hildreth is a Black Immunologist who helped push the COVID vaccine through in an unprecedented time frame. His input helped place both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccine in the current distribution chain. Ironically, he is also the current President of Meharry College. He skillfully uses scientific language to negate the detestation of that study and garner trustworthiness in African-Americans. The vaccine was developed quickly due to technology, parallel processes, and existing infrastructure.” Clearly, he believes that a logical explanation will allow people to look past the history. He has stated, “The coronavirus is ‘nothing’ like Tuskegee.”

Well, it took 40 years of study to find out the extent of the damage.


It is clear from other media reports that African-Americans remain skeptical about the medical community in general, and the vaccine in particular. With the societal and medical pressures exerted on health care due to Covid-19, it follows that the topic of distrust has been resurging in media coverage.

Writing for the online publication “The Undefeated,” Jesse Washington highlights a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and his publication.

“Across the country, only 6 of 10 Black adults said they trust doctors to do what is right most of the time, compared with 8 of 10 white people. Slightly more than half (56%) of Black people said they mostly trust their local hospitals, compared with 7 in 10 white people.

The numbers appear to be getting worse amid the Coronavirus pandemic that is disproportionately sickening and killing Black people. 7 out of 10 African Americans say the health care system treats people unfairly based on race “very often” or “somewhat often,” a notable increase from 56% when a similar question was asked in a 1999 poll.”

New poll shows Black Americans put far less trust in doctors and hospitals than white people

The micro’aggressions that people of color experience are often slight and could be interpreted alternatively. However, when you can count these aggregate behaviors it becomes apparent that they are the seedlings of systemic racism.

The article by Washington reports that 19% of the time Blacks are refused a treatment that they specifically request. This includes treatment for the disease they believe they are suffering from. The same article shows that this happens to white people only 12% of the time.

Additionally, TIME reports the following data released by the Kaiser Family Foundation: “In the survey, only 35% of Black adults said they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated, and were more likely than other groups to cite concerns about side effects and the newness of the vaccine. That tracks with the results of a Pew Research Center poll published earlier this month, in which only 42% of Black Americans said they would consider taking the vaccine, compared to 63% of Hispanic and 61% of white adults who would.”


It is naïve for health care providers, public health officials, scientists, or politicians to believe that those who have been deceived will suddenly gain their trust, even during a pandemic.