Posted on December 1, 2022

CDC Director Slammed for Calling ‘Racist’ Tuskegee Study a ‘Sacrifice’

Shira Li Bartov, Newsweek, November 30, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky sparked outrage on Wednesday after calling the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study a “sacrifice” from Black men.

Ahead of a CDC event marking the 50th anniversary of the study’s end on Wednesday, Walensky tweeted, “I will be joined by colleagues & #PublicHealth leaders as we honor the 623 African American men, their suffering & sacrifice, and our commitment to ethical research and practice.”

The 40-year Tuskegee experiment, originally called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” has become synonymous with a legacy of exploitation and racism in the medical establishment. Between 1932 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) conducted the study on 600 Black men, including 399 with syphilis.

The purpose of the experiment was to observe the progression of the disease when left untreated, but participants were not informed of this and instead told they were being treated for “bad blood,” according to the CDC. Penicillin became widely available as a treatment for syphilis by 1943, but researchers refused to administer it.


Walensky’s tweet prompted a furious backlash from social media users who decried her framing of the Tuskegee study.


“Whitewashing one of the most horrific incidences of governmental racism conducted against African Americans in the modern era,” tweeted FCB Podcast Network CEO and Newsweek Opinion contributor Darvio Morrow. {snip}

A 2017 study from Stanford University and University of Tennessee researchers found the disclosure of the Tuskegee study correlated with increased medical mistrust and mortality among older Black men {snip}