For almost 40 years starting in the 1930s, as government researchers purposely let hundreds of Black men die of syphilis in Alabama so they could study the disease, a foundation in New York covered funeral expenses for the deceased. The payments were vital to survivors of the victims in a time and place ravaged by poverty and racism.
Altruistic as they might sound, the checks — $100 at most — were no simple act of charity: They were part of an almost unimaginable scheme. To get the money, widows or other loved ones had to consent to letting doctors slice open the bodies of the dead men for autopsies that would detail the ravages of a disease the victims were told was “bad blood.”
Fifty years after the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study was revealed to the public and halted, the organization that made those funeral payments, the Milbank Memorial Fund, publicly apologized Saturday to descendants of the study’s victims. The move is rooted in America’s racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder by police in 2020.
“It was wrong. We are ashamed of our role. We are deeply sorry,” said the president of the fund, Christopher F. Koller.
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