An update from student Justin E.:
Today we were exposed to the Tuskegee Syphilis study conducted by the United States Public Health Service. This federally funded medical study raised questions about bioethics and medical research guidelines. In 1932, Dr. Tolliver Clark decided to exploit poor, rural African Americans using deception to discover the natural course of syphilis in the human body. He recruited 600 black men, 399 with syphilis and 201 without. African American nurse Eunice Rivers helped recruit and deceive the men that participated in the study. Essentially, the physician pretended to treat the infected men, but in reality simply observed how their bodies were affected by syphilis.
The study lasted until Peter Buxton, who worked for the U.S. Public Health Service, became aware of the unethical study and blew the whistle on it. He was threatened with termination, but was undeterred from stopping the exploitation of human beings. It wouldn’t be until May of 1997 that an apology by President Clinton was given to the last remaining survivors.
I first learned about the study in a research methods class for my psychology major. I felt particularly disturbed learning that American doctors had been violating African American citizens’ human rights during a time when Hitler and the Nazi Regime were committing genocide of Jewish people in Europe. How can America claim any sense of moral high ground? A similar tyranny and terrorism the U.S. military was fighting against had taken hold domestically. It was racially motivated.
We also visited Joann Bland, a civil rights activist who participated in the march in Selma. She was just a young girl but remembers being beaten back from Edmund Pettis bridge by white law enforcement and citizens trying to keep segregation. Mrs. Bland holds genuine and strong views about how her experience shaped her life and the world. She gave me the impression that she is a fierce fighter and refuses to be a silent witness to racial injustice. The tour she gave was very informative and full of witty banter about how we were to behave. She truly believes that every one of us is the most important piece to changing the world. Her no nonsense, no holding back attitude is a big part of who she is because of what she had been through.
As a group, we marched side by side in twos over the Edmund Pettis bridge, the same bridge where so many black people were trampled and beaten for no reason. I understood when I read a brand new memorial that described the horrific acts as terrorism. That day, domestic terrorism was a deliberate strategy used to proclaim that African Americans were lesser people.
It hurts to know that white people that look like me were so hateful towards fellow human beings. Like Ray Jordan said, it takes construction, destruction, and reconstruction of difference to truly start to make things right again. A most important part is the destruction of difference through debate and discussion. It is imperative that society tear down the institutions that have allowed racist practices and ideals to thrive over the history of America.