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New York philanthropy group apologizes for its part of Tuskegee syphilis experiments

Tuskegee Syphilis Study Legacy
National Archives
In this 1950's photo released by the National Archives, men included in a syphilis study pose for a photo in Tuskegee, Ala. For 40 years starting in 1932, medical workers in the segregated South withheld treatment for unsuspecting men infected with a sexually transmitted disease simply so doctors could track the ravages of the horrid illness and dissect their bodies afterward. It was finally exposed in 1972. (National Archives via AP)

The Milbank Memorial Fund is publicly apologizing for its role in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study in Alabama. The Manhattan-based group covered funeral expenses starting in the 1930s for hundreds of Black men who were allowed to die of syphilis. This wasn't a simple act of charity. The payments enabled researchers to obtain autopsies of people who had been told only that they suffered from "bad blood." The goal of the experiments was to chart the progression of syphilis, without informing the black patients that they had been infected. Alabama Public Radio included coverage of the Tuskegee syphilis study in the newsroom’s yearlong investigation of rural health in the state. That effort was recognized with the fiftieth annual Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Radio. APR’s coverage was further honored that same night with RFK Human Rights’ “John Seigenthaler Prize for Courage in Journalism.” APR became the first radio newsroom to win this additional honor by being selected over the other RFK winner, including the New York Times. The paper won its RFK award for its “MeToo” movement coverage, which had won the Pulitzer Prize. The Milbank fund says there's no easy way to explain or justify its role in the deceit that even today makes many Black people suspicious of government health care.

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