Despite this movie's heavy focus on Eunice Rivers Laurie, the character that Eunice Evers is based on, in order to make the story personal and interesting, white folks really did have plenty of black help at Tuskegee in getting the Tuskegee Experiment done.
1932 Follow-up effort organized into study of 399 men with syphilis and 201 without. The men would be given periodic physical assessments and told they were being treated. Motin agrees to support study if "Tuskegee Institute gets its full share of the credit" and black professionals are involved (Dr. Dibble and Nurse Rivers are assigned to study).
1934 First papers suggest health effects of untreated syphilis.
1936 Major paper published. Study criticized because it is not known if men are being treated. Local physicians asked to assist with study and not to treat men. Decision was made to follow the men until death.
1940 Efforts made to hinder men from getting treatment ordered under the military draft effort.
1945 Penicillin accepted as treatment of choice for syphilis.
1947 USPHS establishes "Rapid Treatment Centers" to treat syphilis; men in study are not treated, but syphilis declines.
Beginning in 1947 , 127 black medical students are rotated through unit doing the study.
1968 Concern raised about ethics of study by Peter Buxtun and others.http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm
I suppose I have to accept the idea that the Tuskegee Experiment probably could have taken place at any other of our Historical Black Colleges and University. But part of me believes that the institution of Tuskegee, at the time, was very much a product of the father that gave birth to it.
Booker T Washington, called "The Wizard" in his day, was not well liked among his black peers (Frederick Douglass, Ida B Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, Monroe Trotter...) And since I think black people, generally speaking, have an unhealthy fear of dissension, I have the unpopular opinion that these high spirited debates and disagreements between various black scholars and politicians were a good thing more often than not.
Many influential black people had very differing opinions on how to move blacks from being slaves to being Americans. And many of those different approaches, including Washington's, wound up being the backbone of our current black success.
Immediately after slavery, many of these black movers and shakers had to think long and hard about just how they would get white money for black projects and black advancement because, believe it or not, black slave folk didn't have much money after slavery. But Booker T Washington was a little different. He gave speeches and aligned himself with people in such a way that made it appear that he believed in white superiority AND the superiority of a select few black men, including himself, as being "a credit to their race" --which is a totally different concept from W.E.B. DuBois theory of a "talented tenth."
Book T Washington In His Own Words
from his 1895 Atlanta Exposition Speech
(Renamed the "Atlanta Compromise" in the "Souls Of Black Folk" by W.E.B. DuBois)
To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted, I would repeat what I say to my own race. “Cast down your bucket where you are...”
Cast it down among these people who have without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South.... you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields,
While doing this you can be sure in the future, as you have been in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proven our loyalty to you in the past,
in nursing your children,
watching by the sick bed of your mothers and fathers,
and often following them with tear dimmed eyes to their graves,
so in the future in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours,
interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress
Washington would also renounce the right to vote in favor of accumulating material wealth (Note: without one you can't keep the other)
Booker T Washington was responsible for the advancement of the race, creating that Tuskegee and getting financial support from white patrons, but he was still a class conscious Uncle Tom in my opinion.
Clearly, Washington thought it was appropriate that he himself aim for the top. And Washington was at the top of a school and he planned to hire other black men that started at the top (college educated) instead of at the bottom (work in the fields, ready to lay down their lives, if need be, for white people.) He covered it up by talking about the honor of physical labor, but Washington did not think aiming high was good for most black men . Or did he think open ambition among blacks would jeopardize his own standings with white people? (This is ugly any way you slice it, IMO)
As W.E.B. DuBois appears to have pointed out, Washington saw the vast majority of black men too simple-minded to be as advanced as he had. And as color-struck as Booker T appeared to be, I wouldn't surprised if he measured his own intelligence by the percentage of white blood that he had.
And if Booker T. Washington's attitude birthed and raised Tuskegee, is it any wonder that the black people running Tuskegee after he died as well as the 127 black doctors and x black nurses working at Tuskegee looked at poor, uneducated black men in the south as worth more as guinea pigs than human beings? It is something beyond and above Uncle Tom-ing to be dedicated to advancing the IMAGE of the black race at the expense of individual black lives. And what that **something beyond Uncle-Tom-ing** is, Booker T Washington may have left it, as if in his will, to Tuskegee.
Look at the time table again.
Penicillin was available for the treatment of syphilis between 1942 and 1945. And black doctors and nurses, due to white federal instructions and authority, withheld treatment from close to 300 black men who died in agony over something close to 30 years.
Of course, there are psychological factors having to do with just how far human beings will go to obey those they consider has having authority over them. But how much easier is it to torture people when you do not think of them as human as you are?
Race and ethnicity are not the only things that other-izes individuals.
- Class can do it too
- So can gender
- So can skin shade
- So can religion
Watch or re-watch "Miss Ever's Boys" on HBO or Amazon and think about all the black people not on screen that had to have been partially responsible for what happened to those men.
The first thing the black people at Tuskegee should have done was stop lying. Other than the Milgram Experiment explanation, it is beyond me to understand how praying folk couldn't figure out that they should tell the men, the test subjects themselves, that they weren't actually being treated. How hard is to then follow up by telling newspapers here in the United States or abroad? Ida B Wells had started doing that much in regards to exposing southern white lynching practices in the late 1800's. This is why I will not give a pass to any single one of the black people involved, including Eunice Rivers Laurie. They could have exposed what was happening long before nearly 300 men died crippled, blind, and insane.
Surely, Tuskegee deserves to have this blot on its record.
We have to know the good and bad parts of our history in order to not repeat it. More importantly, we have to know the good and bad parts of our own history in order to empathize with the bad parts of OTHER PEOPLE'S history.