Unclaimed funds stemming from a legal settlement over the U.S. government's infamous Tuskegee syphilis study on unaware African-Americans will not be used to pay for a museum honoring the victims. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump opposes the move.
AP reported that the U.S. Justice Department argued in court that giving funds to the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center would infringe upon an agreement reached in 1975 to resolve a class-action lawsuit.
In 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service began a clandestine study titled the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” It initially began with 600 Black sharecroppers from rural Macon County in Alabama – 399 of whom had already contracted syphilis but were unaware of it and 201 who didn't have the disease but were intentionally infected with it by U.S. doctors.
Doctors and medics involved with the study, conducted without the informed consent of the patients and fully aware that they suffered from syphilis, purposefully withheld treatment from the patients even after their physical health deteriorated. Instead, they were provided fake pills and tonics to give the impression that they were being treated.
The heinous study lasted for 40 years.
Eighty-five years after the start of one of the most notorious clinical studies in the United States, descendents of the hundreds of Black men who were purposefully denied medical care and left to suffer with a treatable sexually transmitted disease continue to struggle to define how the unethical study and its victims will be remembered.
Using unclaimed money from a class-action lawsuit directly linked to the victims of this heinous act for the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center would have been a small gesture toward reconciliation
Instead, willful denial reigns with the U.S. government arguing that while it doesn't “justify, condone, or defend the Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” allowing remaining funds from the US$9 million settlement to be used for the museum would violate the original provisions outlined in the settlement. Any leftover funds, the U.S. government insisted, would be returned.
Fred Gray, an attorney who represented several victims of the study and made the formal request for funding in 2016, argued in court documents that the men wanted to be remembered in a memorial that told their story. He said the “relatively small” amount of funds could desperately be used to help fund a county-owned history museum that has their names emblazoned in a circle in the middle of the museum.
However, due to funding shortages, the museum only opens over the summertime.
Gray declined comment on the government’s position.
The men wanted to be remembered in a memorial that told their story, Gray said in court documents, and a county-owned history museum that already includes exhibits about the study could use the “relatively small” amount of unclaimed money. The men’s names are emblazoned in a circle on the floor of the museum, which only opens during the summer because of funding shortages.