Department of History
University of California, Irvine
Instructor: Dr. Barbara J. Becker
"Survivor of '32 Syphilis Study Recalls a Diagnosis"
from The New York Times (July 27, 1972)
by James T. Wooten
|Tuskegee, Ala., July 26  -- They came around one day in 1932 and told Charles
Pollard he could get a free physical examination the next afternoon at
a nearby one-room school.
"So I went on over and they told me I had bad blood," the 66-year-old farmer recalled today. "And that's what they've been telling me ever since. They come around from time to time and check me over and they say, 'Charlie, you've got bad blood.'"
Yesterday, Mr. Pollard learned that, for the last 40 years, he has had syphilis. He is one of 74 survivors of a United States Public Health Service experiment in which 400 black men went without treatment for the disease and were used without their knowledge or consent in a study of its ultimate effects.
Dr. Donald Printz of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta said that the Tuskegee Study, as the project has come to be known, was "almost like genocide." He said that "a literal death sentence was cast on some of those people."
Under those laws, Mr. Pollard should have been given treatment, at public expense if necessary, as soon as the Public Health Service technicians discovered at the school that he was infected with the disease.
The Federal representatives had placed him in a 200-man group of infected subjects who would not be informed of their condition or treated for it. A second group of 200 men, also infected, were to have received the best treatment available, but it was disclosed today that none of the 400 men who had syphilis was ever treated.
The third classification within the study was a 200-man group not infected.
While the study began a decade before penicillin was discovered and about 15 years before it was widely available to physicians, the Public Health Service maintained its no-treatment policy with its study subjects after the drug was determined to be effective against the disease.
The program's primary research techniques were periodic examinations and autopsies, both of which were attempts to determine what damage the untreated disease could do to the human body. In return the subjects were promised hospital care, free burial and $100 for their survivors.
"But I never got into that much," Mr. Pollard said today on his 66-acre farm about three miles from Tuskegee, which is 40 miles east of Montgomery. "I've always been able to pretty much make my own way." He was born, he said, half a mile from the little brick and frame house where he lives with his wife, Louiza. He inherited the land from his father, who was the son of a slave couple.
He appeared to be in excellent health and said he had not missed a day of working "in a long, long time." Dr. Ralph Henderson, of the Center for Disease Control, said that Mr. Pollard was probably among the one-third or so of those who contract syphilis in whom the organism either dies out or becomes dormant without medical intervention.
A newcomer to the Tuskegee Study, Dr. Henderson said it was his understanding that the term "bad blood" was simply a synonym in the black community for syphilis.
"That could be true," Mr. Pollard said. "But I never heard no such thing. All I knew was that they just kept saying I had the bad blood--they never mention syphilis to me, not even once."
Mr. Pollard, who is described by his neighbors as a "fairly well-to-do man," was dressed today in the traditional garb of farmers in this area--faded blue overalls and a work shirt. He said he had no idea when he might have contracted the disease. He said that his only child, a daughter, was born in 1925.
"My wife hasn't had it -- at least not that I know of -- and I've been a clean-living man," he said in response to an inquiry about the possible infection of others.
Then he seemed weary of discussing the matter and climbed aboard his tractor. "I have to go to work now," he said. "I understand work. All of the rest of this mess I don't understand."
--Tony Auth, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 1972