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Golden Tigers Made of Steel (a Black History footnote) February 28, 2023

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Many blessings to those observing and/or preparing for Lent. Peace and ease to all during this “Season for Non-violence” and all other seasons!

This is a special post for February 12th. The “Season for Non-violence” theme for February 12th is “humility” – and this post is essentially two servings of “humble pie.” WARNING: Although not explicit, this post does contain a summary of a disturbing part of U. S. history.

“In 1982, a woman of thirty, doing just fine in Washington, D.C., let me know how things are in her precincts. ‘I can’t relate to World War Two. It’s in schoolbook texts, that’s all. Battles that were won, battles that were lost. Or costume dramas you see on TV. It’s just a story in the past. It’s so distant, so abstract. I don’t get myself up in a bunch about it.’

It appears that the disremembrance of World War Two is as disturbingly profound as the forgettery of the Great Depression: World War Two, an event that changed the psyche as well as the face of the United States and of the World”

– quoted from the oral recollections of Captain Lowell Steward, 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group in “Flying High: Lowell Steward” in BOOK THREE of “The Good War” – An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel

Today I offer an apology (with an explanation) and an explanation (that is also an apology of sorts). First, I apologize to any e-mail subscribers who would not have seen that I updated the banner and title on the last Black History post to indicate that that post covered February 11th and 12th.  After doing a lot more research than I initially intended, I realized that it really was more than one post, covering two days. Also, I was not super excited about where I would have gone if I posted a separate February 12th note unrelated to the events I had already covered. Ergo, I updated the banner and the title and I was just going to leave it at that.

Then, however, I looked back at my notes and realized I needed a footnote – which is where the explanation that is also an apology comes in.

When I decided to post these “Black History notes,” I made the decision to focus on accomplishments made by African Americans (rather than on things done to African Americans) and on people who thrived (not just merely survived). So, focusing on what some people would call “Black Excellence.” If you read even one of these notes, I think you’ll notice what I said at the beginning of the month: every demographic in America is making history every day. I think you’ll also notice that every individual aspiration that becomes inspiration involves a struggle to survive – sometimes the struggle is about the dream surviving; sometimes the struggle is about the dreamer of surviving. Ultimately, however, I wanted these notes to be about the history-making inspirations related to each day.

All that said, I’m adding this footnote. I’m adding this footnote, because I want to mention something tangentially related to yesterday’s posts. It’s not a footnote because it lacks importance – and I apologize, because I know it may come across that way. It’s a footnote simply because it doesn’t fit the paradigm I established for myself (and because I’m not going to go into too many details).

“Institutions, like individuals, are properly judged by their ideals, their methods, and their achievements in the production of men and women who are to do the world’s work.”

– quoted from “Tuskegee And Its People: General Introduction” by Booker T. Washington, as printed in Tuskegee & Its People: Their Ideals and Achievements by Emmett Jay Scott, edited by Booker T. Washington

Established on July 4, 1881, as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers, Tuskegee University has had several names – including the Tuskegee Institute. It is one of the many institutions of higher learning established in the United States by virtue of the Morrill Acts, the first of which was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on July 2, 1862, and it is one of the Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCUs) established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The campus (in Tuskegee, Alabama) was designed by Robert Robinson Taylor, the first African American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, class of 1892), and David Williston, the first professionally trained African American landscape architect, who earned an undergraduate degree from Howard University (another HBCU) before becoming the first African American to earn a degree in agriculture from Cornell University (1898).

In addition to the campus’ designers, notable members of Tuskegee’s faculty and staff have included Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Josephine Turpin Washington, and Nathaniel Oglesby Calloway (PhD). Notable alumni* include Amelia Boynton Robinson, Alice Marie Coachman, The Commodores (including Lionel Richie), Milton C. Davis, Ralph Ellison, Lonnie Johnson (PhD), Betty Shabazz (Ed.D.), Danielle Spencer, and Keenen Ivory Wayans – as well as the microbiologists George C. Royal (PhD), Gladys W. Royal (PhD), and Jessica A. Scoffield (PhD). There is a much much longer list of notable faculty, staff, and alumni; however, even if you’ve only heard of half of them, there’s a good chance the reason you’ve heard of Tuskegee Institute has nothing to do with the majority of them. Many people – even here in the United States – have heard about the university for two reasons: the “experiments.”

I put “experiments” in quotes, because people don’t always think about both situations as experiments or studies. However, officially (according to the government and some of the people involved), there were two experiments conducted at Tuskegee between 1932 and 1972: a medical one conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service (beginning in 1932) and a military one conducted by the U. S. Army Air Corps (beginning in 1941). The medical study was the “The Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male in Macon County, Alabama” – which would later be known simply as the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” – and it’s involuntary “participants” are still nameless to most people in the general population. The military study was (mostly) voluntary and officially called the “Tuskegee Experiment” (now renamed the “Tuskegee Experience”). While you may not the names of the individual men involved, you’ve probably heard of them: they are known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

“There should be no limit placed upon the development of any individual because of color, and let it be understood that no one kind of training can safely be prescribed for an entire race. Care should be taken that racial education be not one-sided for lack of adaptation to personal fitness, nor unwieldy through sheer top-heaviness. Education, to fulfil its mission for any people anywhere, should be symmetrical and sensible.”

– quoted from “Tuskegee And Its People: General Introduction” by Booker T. Washington, as printed in Tuskegee & Its People: Their Ideals and Achievements by Emmett Jay Scott, edited by Booker T. Washington

Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington were two men from very different backgrounds who had similar ideas about what their country needed to move forward. In the early 1900’s, their collaboration led to the construction of the Tuskegee campus and several other schools in Alabama. When educators in other states heard about the collaboration, they wanted in on the action – and so it began. The initial agreement (up until about 1920) was that Mr. Rosenwald would fund the construction of the “Rosenwald Schools” and Tuskegee faculty, staff, and students would design, build, and train. When Booker T. Washington died (in 1915), the part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company continued his philanthropic endeavor. He and his family established the Rosenwald Fund (also known as the Rosenwald Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, and the Julius Rosenwald Foundation) for “the well-being of mankind.” 

The Rosenwald Fund was a “sunset” fund, meaning that rather than establishing equity and funding projects with the interest, it had an end date. From it’s establishment in 1917, until 1948, it donated over $70 million to public schools, colleges and universities, museums, Jewish charities, and African American institutions. The fund also issued open-ended fellowships to minority artists, writers, scientists, journalists, and civic leaders. Unlike the individuals who received fellowships, communities, organizations, and states that received grants were expected to match some (or all) of the funds and also had to employ people within the communities being served. So, each project was an investment and a collaboration.

On March 29, 1941, a trustee of the Rosenwald Fund went to Tuskegee, Alabama; had her picture taken as she sat in a Piper J-3 Cub, between the “Father of Black Aviation,” chief civilian instructor C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, and another African American (civilian) pilot; and then went for a ride that lasted at least 60 minutes. You might have heard of this trustee: her name was Eleanor Roosevelt. Never one to let her power and privilege go to waste, the First Lady of the United States used her position as a trustee to arrange a loan of $175,000 to help finance the building of Moton Field – which was named after Tuskegee’s second principal (Robert Russa Moton); designed by David Williston (see above); and would become the home of the 99th Pursuit Squadron Training School. She would also maintain correspondence with some of the pilots for years.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself – because all of this happened several years after civilian pilots were being trained at Tuskegee Institute and several months after the military experiment began. And, yes, I’m starting with the Airmen; because their story is a little easier to tell (and a little easier to swallow).

“The United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917, and later that year, Bullard, with other Americans of the Lafayette Flying Corps, applied for a transfer to the U. S. Army Air Corps, understanding that all that was required for a pilot to receive a commission as an officer was an application and a physical examination.

The American doctors who conducted Ballard’s physical in Paris in October 1917 questioned him about his flight training before his health. The physical showed that he had flat feet. ‘I explained that… I did not fly with my feet.’ They told him he had large tonsils. ‘To this I replied that I was… not an opera singer.’ Finally he was told that he had passed the examination.

The other American flyers were transferred to the American Army Air Corps, one after the another, while Bullard received no word. At last he realized that all the other flyers were white.”

“The discrimination hurt Bullard deeply, but he derived some comfort from the knowledge that he was able to fight on the same front and in the same cause as his fellow American citizens. ‘And so in a roundabout way, I was managing to do my duty and to serve my country,’ Bullard later wrote.” 

– quoted from the profile “Eugene Jacques Bullard” in Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science by Betty Kaplan Gubert, Miriam Sawyer, and Caroline M. Fannin

In some ways, we could say that the story of the military study at Tuskegee predates the story of the medical study; because the story of the Tuskegee Airmen is rooted in the story of men like Eugene James Bullard. When the “Black Swallow” couldn’t fly for the United States during World War I – even after being a decorated combat pilot in France – and other Black men were not even given a fighting chance to apply, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and civil rights activists like A. Philip Randolph (one of the organizers of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) started advocating get more  more “Black wings” in the air. They were joined by Judge William H. Hastie, who would go on to become the first (openly and obviously) African American to serve as Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, but who spent part of World War II working as as a civilian aide to Henry Stimson, the United States Secretary of War.

Due to continuous pressure, the United States Congress passed Appropriations Bill Public Law 18 (on April 3, 1939), which specifically designated funds for training African American pilots. The War Department, backed by Congress, funneled the funds into the pre-existing Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), which was administered by the Civil Aeronautics Authority when it was established in 1938, and had been available at Tuskegee Institute since 1939. But, at the time, the War Department was not planning to hire any CPTP pilots, regardless of their race, ethnicity, and/or gender (noted because CPTP even had women instructors). A few months later, however, with the beginning of World War II, the War Department started looking at CPTP as a resource for pilots – but, they were only interested in certain pilots.

In the fall of 1940, Congress passed (and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed) the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, which required men of a certain age to register for the draft and for all departments of the military to enlist those men, regardless of race. This essentially forced the United States Army Corp – which was on the verge of rebranding as the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF or AAF) – to announce that they were already working with Civil Aeronautics Authority (later known as the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB)) . They did not, however, announce that they were fully prepared to roll out all-Black squadrons, that would have white officers – like the other segregated forces of the time. They had no intention of doing such a thing, because the decision-makers believed a 1925 “study” which indicated that African Americans were not mentally, physically, emotionally, and/or energetically qualified to fly or maintain regular planes – let alone fighter planes. But, they had no proof and so, someone in the War Department had the “brilliant” idea to use Congress’ mandate to prove, once and for all, that African Americans did not have the right stuff.

“It was a tremendous success, beyond their wildest dreams. So they established quotas. They were gettin’ so many volunteers for the air force, qualified young men, that they had to limit the size of the classes. They had so many pilots graduating, in spite of Washington washing pilots out of flying school for ridiculous reasons, such as not wearing your hat on straight or not saying ‘Yes, sir’ to one of the instructors. You got washed out because of attitude, not flying ability. One fellow that washed out in advanced training as a pilot was hired two weeks later as a flying instructor. (Laughs.)

Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit, who was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, recalls: ‘I was washed out as a fighter pilot. I’m told it was because of FBI intervention. I had already graduated from officers’ school in October of ’42, at Fort Benning. They literally pulled guys off the stage, ’cause FBI, Birmingham, was accusin’ them of subversion, which may have been attendin’ a YMCA meeting in protest against discrimination.’”

– quoted from the oral recollections of Captain Lowell Steward, 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group in “Flying High: Lowell Steward” in BOOK THREE of “The Good War” – An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel

By the time the general public heard that African Americans were going to serve as pilots, the War Department and the United States Army Corp had already implemented exclusionary policies and employed psychologists to administer standardized tests to quantify IQ, dexterity, and leadership qualities that would best serve each role. They also adjusted the qualification specifications as an additional barrier to entry. However, they grossly underestimated the intelligence, courage, and physical ability, as well as the sheer will and determination of men like the Golden Tigers from Tuskegee University. They also completely discounted the fact that most of the men who showed up to be tested were already civilian pilots who had trained (and, in some cases taught) through CPTP and the fact that the Tuskegee pilots who passed the test did so at higher rates than at other Southern schools.

There was another thing they did not consider: the cadets were prepared for the fact that many people in the government and in the military were working against them. So, as the upper echelon of the military ran their intelligence “study,” the pilots and their supporters were running a counterintelligence operation, one that ensured there would be “Black wings” in the air. The NAACP and the Black media rallied behind the pilots. The pilots kept showing up for training.

In what some people considered a purely political move, President Roosevelt’s public announcement about African American pilots came around the same time that Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. was promoted, becoming the first Black brigadier general in the Army, and that Judge Hastie was named as the advisor to Secretary of War Stimson. A few months later, on March 22, 1941, the first set of enlisted cadets started training to be mechanics in (at Chanute Field in Illinois). This was the beginning of the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later designated as the 99th Fighter Squadron) – and there was not a single person designated as a pilot by the military. Soon after the mechanical training began, Elmer D. Jones, Dudley Stevenson, and James Johnson (all from Washington, DC); Nelson Brooks (from Illinois); and William R. Thompson (from Pittsburgh, PA) were admitted to the Officers Training School (OTS) at Chanute Field. These were the first aviation cadets on the officer track and they would successfully complete OTS and be commissioned as the first Black Army Air Corps Officers. Then came that famous visit from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her very public statements that they were “good pilots.”

“The days at Tuskegee have given me much to think about. To see a group of people working together for improvement of undesirable conditions is very heartening. The problems seem great, but at least they are understood and people are working on them. Dr. Carver, whom I saw for a few minutes, has been at work for many years; and our hosts, the present heads of Tuskegee, Dr. [Frederick Douglass Patterson] and Mrs. [Catherine Moton] Patterson, are ably carrying on the work.” 

– quoted from “My Day” (events from Monday, March 13, 1941) by Eleanor Roosevelt

Brigadier General Davis, Sr.’s son, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., had followed in his father’s footsteps. Although, their paths’ were slightly different (because times had changed a little bit). Both men served with the Buffalo Soldiers – Sr. as an enlisted man, Jr. as an officer. Both men were initially commissioned as second lieutenants – Jr. in 1932, when he became the fourth African American man to graduate from the U. S. Military Academy (West Point); Sr. in 1901, after Lieutenant Charles Young (the third African American to graduate from West Point, class of 1889) encouraged him to take the officer candidate officer test. Both men were eventually assigned to teach military science and tactics at Tuskegee – so that they would not be seen as senior to white recruits. While Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. had applied to the Army Air Corps while he was at West Point – and been rejected because of race – the changes in regulations meant a change in his trajectory. On July 19, 1941, Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. and twelve more aviation cadets begin their primary flight training.

By November, only Captain Davis, Jr. and four cadets we going through basic and advanced training courses at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Captain Davis Jr. of D. C.; Captain George S. Roberts of London, Virginia; 2nd Lt. Charles DeBow Jr. of Indianapolis, Indiana; 2nd Lt. Mac Ross of Selma, Alabama; and 2nd Lt. Lemuel R. Custis of Hartford, Connecticut became the first African American combat fighter pilots in the U.S. military. Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. was promoted to lieutenant colonel soon after they graduated and. over the course of World War II, the five would serve as leadership for the 332nd Fighter Group (in particular, for the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later designated as the 99th Fighter Squadron), the 301st Fighter Squadron, and the 100th Fighter Squadron).

“I was brainwashed as a child that I would not be able to fly. This is what I wanted to do when I was a little kid. At Tuskegee, they assembled black men from all over the United States to go into this flying school. They recruited All-American athletes. They had mathematical geniuses. They had ministers, doctors, lawyers, farm boys, all down there trying to learn to fly. All the fellows we were with were of top notch caliber.

According to Mayor Coleman Young, ‘They set up this Jim Crow Air Forces OCS School in Tuskegee. They made the standards so damn high, we actually became an elite group. We were screened and super-screened. We were unquestionably the brightest and most physically fit young blacks in the country. We were super better because of the irrational laws of Jim Crow. You can’t bring that many intelligent young people together and train ’em as fighting men and expect them to supinely roll over….’”

– quoted from the oral recollections of Captain Lowell Steward, 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group in “Flying High: Lowell Steward” in BOOK THREE of “The Good War” – An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel

In the air, they would be recognized by their Red Tails. But, at first, they just waited. Because, even after the United States entered World War II, the Army had no intention of sending the Tuskegee Airmen into combat. More pilots and ground crew were trained, and each unit was deployed to somewhere in the United States. Once again, their supporters stepped in. Judge William H. Hastie resigned as the civilian aid to the War Department, bringing public awareness to the fact that men were serving with distinction, but being treated in a way that was unbecoming of the military. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped also in to advocate for the pilots. Finally, in April 1943, some of the Tuskegee Airmen were sent to North Africa. The assignment was designed to limit their contact with the Axis forces, so they could be deemed superfluous. Eventually, however, they proved themselves – but, even that wasn’t enough for the War Department.

In September 1943, Time magazine ran an article leaking the fact that the War Department was planning to disband the Tuskegee Airmen. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., commander of the 332nd Fighter Group, publicly stood up for his men and their record. By the end of 1943, some Black pilots had earned medals in combat and more squadrons were being sent overseas. Although they also served as bombardiers, the “Red Tails” became known for their escort record. They would fly 1,578 missions and 15,533 combat sorties.

“According to researcher/historian and DOTA Theopolis W. Johnson, the following information relates to the ‘Tuskegee Experience’:

‘That is…. anyone–man or woman, military or civilian, black or white–who serves at Tuskegee Army Air Field or any of the programs stemming from the “Tuskegee Experience” between the years 1941 and 1949 is considered to be a documented original Tuskegee Airman (DOTA)’”

– quoted from “Tuskegee Experience” as prepared by Ron Brewington, former National Public Relations Officer, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. (TAI)

As a Tuskegee historian and DOTA, Theopolis W. “Ted” Johnson estimated that 16,000 – 19,000 people were part of the “Tuskegee Experience” – 14,632 of whom he was able to personally document before passing in 2006. This estimate included 929 American pilot graduates, 5 Haitian pilots (from the Haitian Air Force), 11 instructor pilot graduates, and 51 liaison pilot graduates. Based on other estimates, I believe the overall total also includes 1 pilot from Trinidad and at least one Hispanic or Latino airman born in the Dominican Republic. From 1941 until 1946, 84 Tuskegee Airmen were killed overseas (including 80 pilots – 68 of whom were identified as “Killed In Action” or “Missing in Action” (with 30 possible “Prisoners of War”) and 4 enlisted people killed while performing their duties. In addition to a Congressional Gold Medal, awarded to all members of the “Tuskegee Experience,” the Tuskegee Airmen individually and/or collectively received the Presidential Unit Citation (3); Legion of Merit (1); Silver Star (1); Soldier Medal (4); Distinguished Flying Cross (96); Purple Heart (60); Bronze Star (25); Air Medal (1031 = 265 Air Medals + 766 Clusters); and a Red Star of Yugoslavia.

As for the original five Tuskegee officers, all would serve with distinction; be promoted (with Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., eventually becoming the first African American brigadier general in the USAF and being promoted to a four-star general after he retired); and, in some cases, they commanded integrated squadrons. Captain Mac Ross was the only one of the original five who did not make it back home after the war; but, all are remembered and have been honored in a variety of ways.

They were Tuskegee’s Golden Tigers flying “tin cans” with Red Tails, but what really made the difference was that they had will, determination, and hearts of steel. They also had dreams and they thought – hoped and prayed – that their service would make all the difference; that coming home as veterans, heroes, and victors would mean a change in the way they were viewed and they way they were treated in the United States.

Little did they know.

Maybe, if they had known what was going on – literally in their own backyard – they would have had different dreams, hopes, and prayers.

“…I had saved money, was married, and had a little child.

I went to buy a house in Beverly Hills, advertised for sale for veterans. I had the qualifications and the financing. They told me I couldn’t buy it. So I started studying real estate. I’ve been at it thirty years. My main reason for going into real estate was to find a good home for myself. A lot of work I’ve done much of that time was finding neighborhoods and homes that blacks could buy. That’s the way I’ve made a living for thirty years.

World War Two has had a tremendous impact on black people as a whole. There have always been strides for black people after every war, especially that one. But after the war is over, they revert back to bigotry. That war has definitely changed me. Colonel [Edward C.] Gleed and I are just two of the 996 black pilots of World War Two. He’s changed as a career man and I, as a civilian minute man. We helped win the war for our country and now I’m back home.”

– quoted from the oral recollections of Captain Lowell Steward, 100th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group in “Flying High: Lowell Steward” in BOOK THREE of “The Good War” – An Oral History of World War II by Studs Terkel

Syphilis is a venereal (i.e., sexually transmitted disease) that was first described by a European physician in the late 1400’s and known as “syphilis” by 1553. Over the centuries, incidence rates waxed and waned – but it was still mostly associated with Europe. All of that changed, however, during World War I when it came back with a vengeance and spread all over the world. By the time World War II started, leaders like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt were pushing for someone to find a solution and a cure. A cure, penicillin, had actually been discovered in 1925 – but, it would be almost two decades before anybody documented using it to cure syphilis. In the meanwhile, a whole bunch of things were tested… and not tested.

In 1929, the Rosenwald Fund decided to fund syphilis treatment pilot programs in five Southern states, including Alabama. In fact, on Wednesday, February 12, 1930, the executive committee of the Rosenwald Fund approved two grants (totaling $10,000) to the Alabama State Board of Health. The bulk of the grants ($7,750) was an outright gift. The second grant ($2,250) was “conditional upon the state’s appropriating of an equal amount toward the salary and expenses of the state v. d. control officer.” For a variety of reasons, Macon County and Tuskegee Institute were chosen as the program site. Testing and recruitment began almost immediately; but the Rosenwald Fund ended their contributions (in 1932) when the state failed to hold up their financial end of the bargain.

But, remember, the United States government was really eager to resolve the syphilis issue and so the study didn’t end when the funds dried up. The U.S. Public Health Service took over and 660 men were promised free medical care, meals, transportation, health care, and burial payments for their widows. This was at a time when many people in the rural South, regardless of ethnicity or race, were too poor to afford healthcare. People were use to making do and pushing through – until the couldn’t – and the primary nurse (a graduate of Tuskegee, who also recruited most of the men) recommended telling the men (including those in the control group, who were not infected) that they had “bad blood.”

The men were not told, however, that intention of the program had changed and that they would not actually receive treatment for their ailment. Nor were they offered penicillin when it started being widely used as a cure in the mid-1940’s. Neither were they told that the U. S. Public Health Service was working with the government in Guatemala to actually infect and “study” Guatemalan citizens (1946 – 1948); nor that the white doctor in charge, John Charles Cutler, also oversaw a “study” where prisoners in the Terre Haute federal penitentiary were being infected with strains of gonorrhea in exchange for $100, a certificate of merit, and a letter of commendation to the parole board. (1943 – 1944). Remember, they weren’t even told that they had syphilis!

“Infection rates soared as a result of the First World War. In the mid-1920s syphilis was killing 60,000 people a year in England and Wales, compared to tuberculosis, which was causing 41,000 deaths a year. An enormous propaganda effort unfolded, led by governments and a whole variety of voluntary associations, for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. In the USA, Roosevelt’s New Deal pushed a major public health programme centred [sic] on the disease.”

– quoted from the Microbiology Today [Issue: Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 21 May 2013] article entitled “Syphilis – The Great Scourge” by Sir Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College, Cambridge

While the other experiments were shut down after a year or two, the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” continued until 1972 – when a whistleblower’s tip led to a story that appeared in the Washington Star and then landed on the front page of The New York Times. Peter Buxtun, the whistleblower, is a Prague-born American of Jewish and Czechoslovakian descent, who (in his inexperience and naivete) spent several years going through proper government channels in order to report the unethical misconduct endured by the men in Tuskegee. In the four decades of gross misconduct, at least 28 patients died directly from syphilis, 100 died from complications related to syphilis, 40 wives of patients were infected with syphilis, and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis.

The NAACP filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the men and their descendants. As part of a 1974 settlement, the U. S. government paid the plaintiffs $10 million (the equivalent of $60,683,569.98 in 2022) and agreed to provide free medical treatment to surviving participants and surviving family members infected as a consequence of the study. The settlement also required the government to publicly disclose information about the incident and provide future oversight, which led to the National Research Act of 1974, the creation of the Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research, Report of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (issued on September 30, 1978; published in the Federal Register on April 18, 1979.); and the establishment of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, and (eventually) the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), which is part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

While the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” is one of the worst parts of American history and has created decades upon decades of mistrust within the African American and Southern communities, the aftermath includes oversight that can prevent such extreme (and systematic) disregards of the Hippocratic Oath from ever happening again. Or, at least that is what I would like to believe. I am not suggesting that all medical racism was resolved in the 1970’s – healthcare discrepancies today clearly show that that is not the case – neither am I suggesting that the government is completely transparent when it comes to public health issues. However, I don’t believe what happened in Tuskegee could quietly happen again. Don’t get me wrong: There’s not enough preventing it from happening today. But, today [I believe/hope/pray], someone would speak up… loudly.

Tuskegee University motto: “Scientia Principatus Opera”

– “Knowledge, Leadership, Service”

Practice Notes: See previous note for a practice that would work for a Tuskegee Airman class. As for the rest…

I do not, necessarily, steer away from hard themes. I lead classes on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Martyrs’ Day (which is also the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Ireland), Sophie Lancaster Day, and the anniversaries of Bloody Sunday (in the U. S.), the Black Wall Street massacre, D-Day, 9/11, Kristallnacht, and Pearl Harbor. But, I also pick and choose what I bring to the mat – and, I apologize, but I don’t think I will ever do a class about the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study.”

“One school is better than another in proportion as its system touches the more pressing needs of the people it aims to serve, and provides the more speedily and satisfactorily the elements that bring them honorable and enduring success in the struggle of life. Education of some kind is the first essential of the young man, or young woman, who would lay the foundation of a career. The choice of the school to which one will go and the calling he will adopt must be influenced in a very large measure by his environments, trend of ambition, natural capacity, possible opportunities in proposed calling, and the means at his command.”

– quoted from “Tuskegee And Its People: General Introduction” by Booker T. Washington, as printed in Tuskegee & Its People: Their Ideals and Achievements by Emmett Jay Scott, edited by Booker T. Washington

*NOTE: Not all of the indicated alumni received their graduate degrees from Tuskegee.

### “Lord, I can’t condemn / The fear that they feel // … For that river of red / Could be the death of me / God, give me strength / And keep reminding me / That blood is thicker than water / Oh, but love is / Thicker than blood” ~GB ###


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