In 1932, the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute, began a study to record the natural history of syphilis in hopes of justifying treatment programs for blacks. It was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.”
Fliers began appearing around Macon County, Ala., promising “colored people” special treatment for “bad blood.”
“Free Blood Test; Free Treatment, By County Health Department and Government Doctors,” the black and white signs said. “YOU MAY FEEL WELL AND STILL HAVE BAD BLOOD. COME AND BRING ALL YOUR FAMILY.”
According to the CDC, black men in the state of Alabama from 1932-1972 were studied by the United States Public Health Service in partnership with Tuskegee University. The subjects were not informed that they were injected with syphilis, and some were stopped from getting treatment after learning elsewhere that they had been infected.
The study aimed to learn the effects of untreated syphilis, and promised free health care to study participants.
The courts ruled that $10 million in settlements be paid out, after a class-action lawsuit was brought about by over 6,000 descendants of the original 600 participants. An undisclosed amount of that money has yet to be claimed.
The Atlantic Black Star reports that there is a dispute over who will get that remaining money.
On one half of the dispute is the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center. They host an informative exhibition and museum on the study details. On the other half of the dispute is a group called the Voices of our Fathers Legacy Foundation, which is composed of decedents of the Tuskegee study. This group argues that the money should go to the decedents.
On another side of the debate is the Trump administration, who argues that the remaining money is property of the federal government.
The president of the Voices of our Fathers Legacy Foundation, Lillie Tyson Head, says, “It was meant to go to the descendants in the first place.” Head sent a letter to a district judge imploring them to not make a decision about where the money should go until the decedents have had a chance to hire attorneys.
The Star reports that Fred Gray, head of the museum, remains hopeful that the money will go towards his museum.
No matter which side of the debate you’re on, one thing is certain: no one will back down without a fight.