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As COVID-19 puts a spotlight on public health, future generations from Tuskegee are working to build back trust.

In the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee (1932-1972), more than 600 Black men were told they were being treated for “bad blood” but were not actually given medical care. Penicillin was widely available as an effective treatment by the 1940s, but the men were still denied treatment.

When the details of the study came to light in the early 1970s it sparked a wave of reforms in medicine and public health. In 1974, the National Research Act was signed into law with other sweeping regulations to stop unethical research. Since then, laws require all medical studies or clinical trials to ensure transparency and get voluntary informed consent from all participants.

In 1997, President Clinton issued a formal apology to Tuskegee survivors and family members on behalf of the U.S. government. The government also directed funding to help establish The National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care at Tuskegee University (an HBCU in Tuskegee, Alabama).

Today, as COVID-19 and COVID vaccines shine a spotlight on medicine and public health, the descendants of these men are a living link to a horrific part of our history that, as President Clinton acknowledged, “many Americans would prefer not to remember but dare not forget”. We’re honored to share the memories and perspectives from family members who are working to carry on the men’s legacy, increase visibility of Black voices in public health, and build trust and transparency so people can make informed decisions for their health and for the health of their loved ones.

Tuskegee Legacy Stories

Lillie Tyson Head - President of the Voices for Our Fathers Legacy Foundation

Lillie, President of Voices For Our Fathers

Carmen Head Thornton, Member of Voices for Our Fathers Legacy Foundation

Carmen, Public Health Director

Omar Neal, Former Mayor of Tuskegee

Omar, Former Mayor of Tuskegee

Elise Marie Tolbert, Environmental Health Scientist

Elise, Environmental Health Scientist

Leo Holding Family Portraits

Leo, Retired Entrepreneur

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Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation Logo

Voices For Our Fathers Legacy Foundation is dedicated to honoring the legacy of the African American men victimized and unethically treated in the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study in Tuskegee, Alabama.

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Black Coalition Against COVID is a D.C. based initiative seeking to provide trustworthy, science-based, information to the Black community about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines at the national and local level.

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