American Scandal

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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study - What Was Done Cannot Be Undone | 4

Tuskegee Syphilis Study - What Was Done Cannot Be Undone | 4

Tue, 02 Jul 2019 09:00

After 40 years, the Tuskegee Study has been exposed, condemned, and ended. But for the survivors and African-American community at large, this is not the end of the story. A fight begins to ensure the deceived test subjects are properly compensated, and formally apologized to, by the United States government.

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A listener note, this series is about a shameful chapter in American history. As part of telling a story accurately, we present the point of view of doctors and others from the period who express racist and white supremacist views. Listener discretion is advised. As the men file into his Montgomery office in late July 1973, Fred Gray recalls the moment he joined this fight. He just wrapped in for a relaxing return trip home to Alabama from DC. He's the seat back, then pulled out that day's New York Times. Right away, something caught his attention. It wasn't the biggest headline on the front page, not by far. In fact, it was relegated to the bottom left corner, but there it was. Nicholas victims in U.S. study went untreated for 40 years, a gene heller. As he read, he found each new line worse than the one before. Human beings with syphilis were induced to serve as guinea pigs. Again in 1932, with about 600 black men, mostly poor and uneducated from Tuskegee, Alabama. Officials who say they have serious doubts about morality of the study also say that it is too late to treat the syphilis in any surviving participants. Gray was angry, hurt, and appalled, but he wasn't shocked. When you've spent two decades as a civil rights lawyer in the South, racism doesn't shock you. Though he had to admit he'd never seen anything quite like this. Gray folded the paper, then wondered if he knew any of the old men from making county, who'd been so cruelly tricked all those years ago. It turns out he did, and they needed a lawyer. That was a year ago. Once then, public outcry, congressional hearings, new laws on the books, and finally, the studies official end. But the men are entitled to so much more. So today, Gray looks at each one of their line faces as they settle into chairs in his office. Charles Pollard, Carter Howard, Herman Shaw, Price Johnson. Of course this isn't everyone, just the ones who could make it this afternoon. The Gray does now, he does on their behalf, and on behalf of the hundreds of others who couldn't be here today. The ones who haven't been tracked down yet. The ones who are dead. Gray clears of throat and begins. Gentlemen, I'd like to thank you for joining me today. The government has been exposed, and the experiment is over. But we are not finished. There has been no apology and no offer of a cash settlement. The men roll their eyes and shift in their seats. One of them speaks up, voicing what many are thinking. I don't give a damn about their apologies. Let's talk about the money. They're going to pay, Mr. Howard. I'll see to that. The federal government violated the fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth, thirteenth, and thirteenth amendments. The federal common law, the common law of Alabama, and a lot more. We're filing a class action civil suit as of today for $1.8 billion. The dollar figure gets the men's attention. One of them leans in. You all is being sued. That's a good question, Mr. Shaw. We're going after the US government itself, the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, plus former Division of Venerable Diseases Director John Heller, Sydney Olansky, and several other men involved in lying to you. But no one at Tuskegee? That's right. No one at Tuskegee. No black physicians or nurses who worked there. They didn't ask to be a part of what the public health service did. As far as I'm concerned, they were coerced. The white men who ran the study knew that they had the true power, and at every turn, they held that power over the Institute. Well, that's good, because the way I see it, if they had raised a fuss, nurse rivers and Dr. Dibble probably would have just gotten fired. Those white men would have found a way to experiment on us anyway. I don't want anything bad to happen, nurse rivers, and I don't either, Charlie. So does this plan work for everyone here? The men nod in unanimous agreement. Gray then wraps up the meeting. Well then, gentlemen. It's time for you to get your day in court. I'm sorry, it didn't come sooner, but the United States will pay for what it did to you. That is a promise. Fred Gray feels energized. He has the full backing of his clients and the full attention of the American government. He won't rest until justice is served. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondry, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Scandal. In the early 70s, the world learned of the Tuskegee Siphilist study 40 years after it had started. But he lost through such a sonless matter. He had noted that he probably wanted恭, claiming Fates of the disintegration of the world. On the second day until 2009 or night and that anotherorph американ очер поз pronto proliferated seven hundreds ofAUивает sip glasses and also wanted to – in a way, the average bourgeois usually had a violent party during the Med folks murder struggle for wrongdoing much less pay for it. Fred Gray took on that government. A neat resolution was impossible, but people fought for justice nonetheless, even as I tried to move on with their lives. As the decades to come would prove, it wasn't just the survivors who suffered, but the larger African American community as well. The legacy of the Tuskegee study lingers to this day. This is episode 4. What was done cannot be undone. In December 1974, a year and a half since he filed suit and still no court date in sight, Fred Gray takes stock of his office. It's cluttered with every imaginable legal text that might apply to the upcoming case. Books open to random pages, relevant passages and statutes highlighted for future reference, reams and reams of paper piled high on each of the partner's desks. Looking at these documents, Gray notes the fact that ironically, the government's worrisome delay tactics have only helped his case. Every day that passes is one he can spend tracking down a little more of the 40 odd years worth of official data on the study. Each medical chart and piece of correspondence more damning than the last. Though this is strategically helpful, it is still painful work. An ugly, endless paper trail of callous racist pseudoscience. All right there, in black and white. Most of it is spread out on 410 cardboard boxes sitting in the National Archives waiting to be read. James Jones, medical researcher, has been helping with that. Jones intends to write a book chronicling the Tuskegee study. He's gone through every box, found the relevant documents, photocopied them, and shipped the copies to Gray. That was tedious work, but it wasn't hard. And the mere fact that Gray didn't have to dig that deep for these government files is itself an insult. From 1932 on, the officials that ran the experiment thought so little of their black test subjects that they didn't even bother with a cover up. They might be thinking about those choices now. Gray has demanded $3 million in damages for each living test subject. Though the test subjects who have died can't be repaid, at least some money can go to the children they left behind. So Gray also wants $3 million for all deceased patients legal heirs. Gray's at his desk when there's a knock on his office door. It's Cleveland Thornton with a fresh box of government paperwork for Gray to sort through. Thornton's just alphabetized it and asked if there's anything else Gray needs. Thornton is a young white lawyer from Barbara County who joined the firm not too long ago, but just in the nick of time, for this is truly one of the most enormous cases Fred Gray has ever tackled. His firm is chronically understaffed so every little bit of assistance helps. But he's all set for today though, so Gray tells Thornton he can head home. On his way out, the young man pauses at the door and asks a question, is there any chance their small law firm can actually win this case? Gray takes a moment before answering. He's confident, but not naive. They're taking on the most powerful nation on the planet after all. A government that historically has not liked being held to account for its crimes. But yes, he says, they may not get their full 1.8 billion, but he thinks they'll get a whole lot. At that moment, Gray's phone rings and he answers it. He holds up a finger, asking for Thornton to stay. He listens, says little, but jot's down notes. When the man on the other end of the line sums it all up, Gray says, thank you, your honor. I'll run it by them and hangs up. Thornton rushes forward, eager for the update, wanting to know who is on the phone. Gray smiles, but remains calm and official while he delivers the facts. It was judge horns me on the phone. So we have a court date Thornton asks? There isn't going to be a date Gray replies. The government just offered a settlement. Gray goes on to explain that it appears the defendants became aware of all the Gray and his colleagues had done to uncover the public health services misdeeds, and realize this was only going to end one way. Their offer is $37,500 for each living infected man, and $15,000 for each heir to the man who sifless killed them. The control group will also be paid. Though those men didn't have sifless, they were unwitting participants in the study all the same. 16,000 will go to each living control. 5,000 for each deceased controls heir. $10,000,000 total. Gray can see Thornton isn't sure how to respond. He wants to know if this is good news or bad news. And Gray shrugs. He'd say it's probably good news. Yes, 10 million is a far cry from 2 billion, but when you factor in the legal issues that would emerge in prosecuting a case like this during trial and how old most of the test subjects are, the government's offer is actually quite fair. It's certainly $10 million more than they want to spend. Thornton asks what's next. Gray knows that in many ways he just now that the true work begins. Number one, he must make sure that the study participants he knows personally accept the deal. Assuming they do, he'll need to track down all of the survivors, even though one's not involved in the lawsuit. But the right thing to do. There are 120 known survivors, but the data suggests that there are roughly 500 more who remain unaccounted for. Thornton asks the obvious question, but what about their heirs? Who are they? Where would they be living these days? This is where it really gets challenging Gray replies, because I have no idea. Weeks later, Gray arrives early, but the crowd is already there, waiting in the parking lot outside the offices of Gray, C, and Langford. People are packed in so tight, Gray can barely find space for his car. He gets out and sees his associate Billy Carter struggling to get things organized. Carter reminds everyone to stay in an orderly line. To the left, please, please, stay to the left. Carter has been helping Gray track down heirs and survivors. The lawyers need the help. There are just too many people entitled to a piece of the $10 million settlement. Gray says, he didn't want to have to cast so wide a net, but there really was no choice. He placed ads in all the local papers, burging anyone who believed themselves in title to damages to come forward. And now he greets these long lines every single day. As he approaches the front of the crowd, Gray can see the Carter is already sweating from the day's heat, but it's not even 11am. How's it going so far? Oh, the usual story. Any actual heirs? One? Maybe two? Well, that's better than nothing. How about the fakes? Carter just shakes his head. Well, more than one or two of those I'm afraid. Look at that guy, for instance. Carter points at a white man, standing patiently in line like everyone else. Gray can't believe it. The audacity of some people. He calls out to the man. Excuse me, sir. Are you on business here related to the Tuskegee settlement? You bet I am. I lived in Tuskegee all my life. Both my parents were in the study. Sir, you're really standing out here in the sun to waste everyone's time, including your own. I can prove it. Sir, only African American men were involved in the study, so please leave. Gray turns his attention to the next man in line. Looks promising. He's black, looks to be mid 40s, just about the right age. Good morning, sir. Your father was in the study, I presume? Well, I don't know all about that. I just heard that the government came down here in the old days and infected people with syphilis. I think that's how I got it. My doctors diagnosed me last week. Of course, Gray dismisses this man as well, but his story is actually disparagingly common. Many people honestly believe they are handing out cash on the spot to any black man who can prove he has syphilis. They're not so hard to deal with, but the bigger headache is the sheer number of errors to the deceased, like the next man in line. He puts forth full identification for himself and his father, who was in the study. Gray checks his list of Tuskegee survivors. The man standing before him has a totally legitimate claim except for one thing. I'm sorry, sir. I wish we could help you, but we just can't. What do you mean you can't help? You know that's my dad, and I know my sister came just the other day. She's getting paid. This is awkward and it's something Gray must sadly explain day after day to people just like this man. Well, sir, what I'm going to guess is that she's your half sister, correct? Yeah, so her mother and your father were married when you were born, but he never married your mother. So see the state of Alabama doesn't recognize children born out of wedlock as legal heirs. So I'm sorry. You can talk to your sister if she'd like to give you a portion of her share of the settlement. I'll arrange for that. Yeah, man storms off and raged. Gray doesn't blame him. He's just about to call the next person forward when Carter asks, does anyone actually go for that? You mean legitimate heirs sharing money with their illegitimate brothers and sisters? No, hasn't happened once yet. Gray shakes his head sadly. The settlement was supposed to mean justice. The closest thing many of these families could ever get to a happy ending. Instead, in many cases, it's tearing families apart. Still, Gray has requested that everyone who comes in to make a claim legitimate or not write down their information. He might as well have it all on record. He asks for today's role and Carter hands it over. There are so many names. It will take the firm years to sort through everyone. The list in his hand feels heavy and it's not just the number of pages. So many of the names written down aren't even actual names. Just scratches with ink from people who never had an education. So many of them could easily be taken advantage of, just like their fathers and grandfathers were. So much has changed over the years, but so much has not. Gray and Carter continue to call claim and forward until the sun sets. The battle to secure justice for what happened at Tuskegee is just getting started. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Where you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured, miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question, while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening, brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening, is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. On May 2nd, 1977, Carter Howard trudges back to his house in Macon County, a rifle slung over his shoulder. It's been a good afternoon spent enjoying his favorite pastime hunting. As the sun drops lower in the sky, he thinks he's doing alright for himself. He's 70 years old, makes decent money as a farmer and a carpenter, plus he still has most of that 37,000 bucks he got a few years back. Back in the day, they told him he had bad blood and treated him for it, or they lied and treated him for something different. Or they didn't treat him at all and said they did. He's had a hard time keeping it all straight, but that doesn't matter. They're all gone now, and he feels just fine. Howard knows that some of the men who went to Tuskegee with him had families and got their wives and children sick, and that's terrible. Luckily, he doesn't have to worry about anything like that. He's a bachelor and tends to stay that way. As he nears his house, he sees an unfamiliar car parked in front, with a white man standing in front of it. What does he want, Howard wonders? Good thing I've got my gun. The white man smiles and waves, and then Howard remembers. It's that guy writing the book, Jones. He called a few days back, said he was in the area and asked Howard if he could interview him. Howard said, Sure, be at my house Monday afternoon. Guess that's today. Once they're inside, Howard sits down and the author sits opposite him. The book will trace the history of the Tuskegee study, and the man asked Howard if he can tell the story of his involvement in it. Howard shrugs and starts from the beginning. He just thought he was going in for regular doctors visits all those years. He didn't know he had syphilis, and guess what that means he was one of the lucky ones, because he's still here without any major complications. The worst part was early on when they stuck the needle in his spinal cord, but that was really as bad as it ever got. Nurse Rivers was good to him, and even those white men weren't so bad, though he doesn't like them too much now, after finding out what they did. The author asks what Howard and his fellow survivors think about everything that's happened in the past year. The passage of the National Research Act, banning projects like the syphilis study, the lawsuits, and settlement. Howard Cox's head to the side and thinks about it. Some of the men hate the government doctors and they're really mad. Others don't care as much. Others are just like him. What does that mean, the author asks, just like you? Well, Howard replies, we just don't really understand it, or really understand why they did what they did. I keep hearing the government doctors use us as guinea pigs, and yeah, that sounds pretty bad. He wants to be a guinea pig. Howard pauses, then gets down to the truth of it all. He looks at the author and says, to be honest with you, I don't know what that means. I don't know what they used us for. I had never understood the study. One man who would claim to fully understand the study is Dr. Sidney Olansky, formerly of the Ph.S. Feneridale Disease Research Laboratory in Chambley, Georgia. Olansky left the Ph.S. long ago, but is stayed around Atlanta. He's now a professor of dermatology at Emory University. That's where James Jones, tapered quarter and notepad at the ready, parks on campus, then makes his way to a Lansky's office. In 72 when the story first broke, Jones was appalled like most people he knew. But unlike most of them, however, he was a professional researcher, focused not just on medicine, but on medical ethics. It was imperative that a book on the experiments get written, so Jones got to work. Today's interview with Olansky is essential. Very few white doctors associate with the study have agreed to speak to him. Pretty understandable, Jones thinks, as he walks past lecture halls towards Olansky's office, Jones isn't out to villainize anyone, but this book will tell the truth, and questions must be answered. Jones arrives at Olansky's door and finds it open, haunting him the doctor walks forward, his hand out stretched. Olansky is in his early 60s, but has a full head of hair and a ready smile. James Jones, that's right. Good to meet you, Dr. Olansky. You as well. You as well. Anything I can get you before we get started? No, thank you, doctor. I'm fine. I'm just going to set up my recorder here if you don't mind. Don't mind at all. No, no, no. Olansky sits behind his desk, hands clasped. He doesn't seem nervous or defensive in this lightest. All right, here we go. One, two, one, all right. Please correct me if I'm wrong, Dr. Olansky, but I understand you essentially ran the Tuskegee study from 1951 to 1955. Yes, essentially. Of course, I was under various PHS directors through those years. I also had a lot of help from my assistant, Dr. Schumann. A lot of people made the study what it was. Okay, um, let's focus on your 1951 review of the experiment. As you're aware, I'm sure many feel that never should have been launched in the first place or should have ended earlier than it did. You were one of the few people who had the power to end the study, but you chose not to. Why? Well, it had existed long before me. I thought it was scientifically valid, and the test subjects didn't complain. There was no reason to end it, in my opinion. But lying to the men who had syphilis, you honestly didn't see that as ethically questionable. They may have complained if they had known what was really going on, wouldn't you agree? Actually, no, I wouldn't agree with that. They genuinely appreciated the medical attention they received from us. And you didn't think maybe they should be treated, especially after penicillin became readily available? No. We had to look at the study with a wide perspective, you know. You have to understand. We had to think about the scientific data we were getting, not to get to grandiose, but this data has the potential to really help us understand syphilis. In ways, we just could not have understood it otherwise. Well, I'm sure you believe that, but that doesn't change the fact that many of these men were unknowingly sacrificing their bodies, and ultimately their lives for the benefit of your research. You don't find that problematic. Olansky hesitates, a smile falters momentarily. He's clearly flustered. Jones wonders if this is the moment he's going to be kicked out. But instead, Olansky speaks rapidly and confidently. Let me make one thing clear. There were many, many other people in a PhD who agreed with me, I asked. I mean, that was the whole point of the review. If anyone had said, this is wrong, don't do it. We wouldn't shut the study down. And all the test subjects being black. Again, that didn't bother you. You didn't question that. Actually, I'm glad you brought that up. Look, I'm going to be the first person to admit that maybe there was some racially biased attitudes within the PHS, especially in the early 30s. Yeah, sure. But you have to understand, by the 50s, all of that had changed. I promise you, we had nothing against the test subjects. We quite liked them, actually, and they liked us. We made them feel better. We did what doctors are supposed to do. So if you want to talk about morality, in my opinion, continuing the study was actually the most moral option. How so? So we could honor the test subjects that had already died, of course. We owed it to them to see our work through to the end. That was the only way to truly make the most of their sacrifice. Well, they definitely did sacrifice. I'll give you a tip, Mr. Jones. Go talk to nurse rippers. I can see you still take issue with what was done. But she's great. She'll clear everything up for you. I promise. As Jones heads outside, he replays the interview in his head. Alansky wasn't difficult, and he wasn't evasive. In fact, he seemed genuinely mystified by the notion that anyone would question his judgment. Jones had the sense that if this doctor could do it all over again, even knowing how the study would end, he wouldn't change a thing. What's true of Alansky is true of many others. Jones has noticed that no one at the PHS personally involved in the study has expressed an ounce of regret, contrition, or moral reovaluation. To Jones, it's extremely troubling. Most troubling of all for Jones is the idea that nurse rippers could be no different. From her front porch, Eunice Laurie shields her eyes against the sun and watches the car approach. This must be the man writing the book, she thinks, and makes sure the eliminator's ready plus two classes. They could sit outside here. It's certainly warm enough. She's an old woman now. At Tuskegee, they called her nurse rippers, but now she's retired, and these days most people just call her Eunice. She watches the man step out of his car and fumbles with his tape recorder. Smiling, she calls out to him. Need help with anything over there? No. I'm just fine. I'll be right in the... I'll be right up in a second. Thank you. Please, to meet you, maim. I'm James Jones. Eunice Rivers Laurie. It's very nice to meet you as well. Well, thanks for agreeing to meet with me. I've been looking forward to this for a very long time. I'm ready to get started when you are, but we can take our time. There's no rush. No, no. I'm happy to get started. Please sit. You said that you talked with Carter Howard. How's he? Oh, Mr. Howard's doing well. We had a great conversation. He had many nice things to say about you. Oh, that's nice to hear. He's such a lovely man. All of them were... are. So, I'm already quite familiar with your impressive background. What brought you to Tuskegee? Your day to day role as part of the study. So, is it okay with you if I ask about a few other subjects that I think maybe have interest to our readers? Well, sure, of course. Before we start, one thing I need to make clear is this isn't an interrogation or a grilling. If you're uncomfortable with any of my questions, you don't have to answer them. Oh, well, thank you for that. But I understand. I really have nothing to hide. I'm ready when you are. Rivers watches as Jones hits record. She clears her throat. Ready to tell our story. Well, I guess I'll start with this. In light of everything that's come out about the study in these past few years, do you regret at all not speaking up on behalf of the man or demanding that they receive treatment? Rivers is honestly taken aback. One question. And it's not a hard one to answer. Oh, heavens no. I was a good nurse, and you need to understand that in those days, being a good nurse meant you did what the doctors ordered. Now, say I did have a problem with the study, which I didn't. Well, it certainly wasn't my place to say anything about it. Okay, I understand. So, to raise an objection, again, even if you had one, would have been unprofessional. The worst thing I could have done. As a nurse being trained when I was being trained, we were taught that we never diagnosed. We never prescribed. We followed the doctors instructions. Understood. So, I suppose I should just get this out of the way. Was there anything about the study you did object to? Absolutely. I'll tell you what really bothered me. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to the other men in town who couldn't be part of the study. Rivers isn't too old to catch the incredulous expression on Jones face. He's biting his tongue so hard it might bleed. With a patient smile, nurse rivers goes on to explain. You have to understand. When all this started, the black people in Macon County just lived outside the concept of modern medicine. Totally outside it. They had hookworm, tuberculosis, pelagra, and yes, a lot of them had syphilis. From the day they were born to the day they died, not one checkup, not one operation, nothing. The men in the study on the other hand, they were cream of the crop. Sure, they didn't get medicine for syphilis. They got everything else they could have asked for. Free aspirin, spring tonic for their blood, their own nurse. They enjoyed having somebody come all the way from Washington or Atlanta. Come all the way down here and spend two weeks riding up and down the streets looking at them, listening to their hearts, taking their blood pressure, paying attention. I see. That's good that you see, because let me tell you, that was as much help to them as a dose of medicine. Okay, well speaking of medicine, I'd like to ask you about penicillin. From the mid 40s on, it was the drug of choice to essentially cure syphilis. Yet it was withheld from the test subjects. Any regret about that? None. None at all. They hadn't been treated for many years at that point, so not treating them was just the routine. I honestly didn't give penicillin a second thought. And the racial component of all this, racial component. What racial component? Well, the test subjects were chosen because they were sick, they were systematically lied to, and syphilis killed many of them. Only black men were chosen as test subjects. Did you ever have a problem with that as a black woman? I didn't think it was a racist experiment. They didn't treat those folks in Norway. This is the way I saw it. They were studying the negro just like they were studying the white man, making a comparison. But it's not strictly speaking a fair comparison, is it? The Norway study was conducted years before doctors understood the full benefits of penicillin. I'm not a scientist. I never thought much about it. It didn't affect me as a civil rights issue, and I don't think it was a racist experiment. I helped those men. I helped them. Nurse Rivers pauses. Her heart is beating fast in her chest. Was she raising her voice just then? She didn't mean to. I'm sorry Mrs. Laurie. I didn't mean to upset you. Rivers feels slightly dizzy. Their names suddenly run through her head. Their names and their young faces. Carter, Charlie, Herman, Courtney, James, Will, Joshua, Alan Martin, Frank, Nat, Joe, Andrew, Marcus, John, Toby, Grant, and were so many more. She closes her eyes. If her father, Albert Rivers, had syphilis, and he was in the study, would she have wanted him to be cured of it? Are you okay, Mrs. Laurie? We can stop if you like. Nurse Rivers opens her eyes. Yes, Mr. Jones, I think now would be a good time to stop. Without hesitation, Jones reaches the shut off the tape recorder. No, no, no way. Rivers swallows. I still don't feel that we miss you the patients. I mean, the people. All projects involve human errors. We may have, we probably have made some mistakes. What mistakes were made in your opinion, Mrs. Laurie? Penicillin. In the end, it may have been wrong to withhold it. You're familiar with the term informed consent? Yes, these men should have been allowed to give it. She wipes her forehead. The doctors didn't tell the patients they had syphilis. They should have. Okay, Mr. Jones, you can shut that off now. Rivers stands slowly, suddenly very aware of the fact that she's 77 years old. She hopes that every test subject who can make it to this age does and then some. Many of them will, and though she'll never know it, they'll publicly confront the legacy of the study one last time, 20 years from now, in the year 1997. It's Tuesday, April 8, 1997. Fred Gray can't believe the turnout here at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in No to Sulga, Alabama. On the way over, State Highway 81 was jammed, seemed everyone was trying to get here, and he's glad they're here. The reporters from newspapers near and far, the camera people, the local citizens of every age, want to catch a glimpse of this major event. Fred Gray looks at the men there here to see. Charlie Pollard, 90 years old. Ernest Hendon, 90. Carter Howard, 93. Herman Shaw, 94. Fred Simmons, 100. Gray Chuckles, he's a bit of an old timer himself now. When he first joined forces with these men, he was in his early 40s. Now he's 66. The elegant structure they're all now gathered in has stood for over 120 years. From the moment it opened its doors, it was a place where African Americans could come and worship in peace. Well, that was the way it was supposed to be. 65 years ago, the government doctors arrived. They found Charlie Pollard and many others and invited them to participate in a medical study at the Tuskegee Institute. Yet even after everything that followed, Pollard still attends services here every Sunday. Gray truly considers this hallowed ground and the ideal setting for today's press conference. Gray sees that the five men are seated at the front of the church. Not far from them are their families, including many children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It's time to begin. Gray nods to the church's pastor who welcomes the visitors and leads them in song and prayer. He then introduces Gray who takes the stage. Thank you all for coming today. The men behind me want the world to truly understand who they are, how they feel about what happened to them and what they want now. Specifically, we think it would be appropriate for a monument to be erected at Tuskegee. A permanent structure that will not only honor the contributions these men have been made to the fields of human and civil rights, but the contributions made by others as well. Next, we would like an official apology from President Clinton on behalf of the United States government. We will now take questions. Yes, you. Right there. Please go ahead. Thank you, Mr. Gray. Pretty basic question. Why push for an apology now? Well, we've always felt an apology was warranted. We'd always hoped one would be offered without our demanding it. Then two months ago, a maid for TV movie aired inspired by the Tuskegee study. It was filled with inaccuracies and mischaracterizations. Some of them were downright offensive and we were prompted to set the record straight. Secondly, the Tuskegee Experiment Legacy Society recently asked for a presidential apology without consulting myself for any of the survivors. If an apology is to be demanded, we'll make the demand ourselves. So, next question. My question for the survivors? Quite simply, what happened was horrific in an outrage. But what difference does it make now if the president issues an apology to all of you? Gray looks to the men and notices Herman Shaw look back and forth. He clearly wants to take this one and no one objects. Shaw raises his voice so all can hear. An apology from the president would make a great contribution because we figure we've all been left out and used his guinea pigs. We would be very appreciative if he made an apology. There are more questions asked, more pictures snapped, and the men make themselves available for one on one interviews. At home that night, Gray is gratified to see coverage of the press conference lead the National Evening News. The next morning it's on the front page of every newspaper and by the end of the day, Gray's home phone is ringing. He picks it up. On the other end is a man named Ben Johnson. He's with the White House. The president of the United States is going to host Gray and the survivors in Washington and then he's going to publicly apologize. Charles Pollard thought he'd seen a lot in his day, but he's never seen anything like this. On May 16th, 1997, he's standing under one of the massive golden chandeliers that decorate the East Room of the White House. To his left are a hundred reporters, to his right another hundred. There are dignitaries in one corner of the room, senators in another. There are congressional black caucus delegates and other black organization leaders in attendance too. Pollard sits, smiles, and simply takes it all in. He's a little overwhelmed if he's being honest. So many people want to shake his hand, so many people want to take pictures. He doesn't recognize a lot of their faces, but can tell that many of them are probably very famous. They're all here to pay respect and Pollard likes the attention. He can't help it. The room quits when the band begins to play hail to the chief and in walks the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and vice president Al Gore. It's Gore who speaks first, addressing Pollard and the other former Tuskegee patients seated next to him. The first to respond is Herman Shaw. Herman Shaw stands and when he does, Pollard is surprised to find everyone surrounding him does too. The applause is deafening. Pollard's never heard anything so loud. He stands up too and claps for his friend. Shaw finds his way to the podium. In order for America to reach its full potential, we must truly be one American. Black, red, white together, trusting each other, caring for each other, and never alone, the kind of change which has happened to us in Tuskegee study to ever happen again. There was once again a roar of applause as Shaw goes on to introduce the president who then himself steps up to the microphone. Bill Clinton doesn't rush through this. Pollard is once again surprised. He can tell the president is genuine. Clinton speaks from the heart. What was done cannot be undone, but we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful and I am sorry. Pollard didn't think this day would ever come, but it wasn't until today that he realized just how badly he wanted an apology, how much he needed it. 65 years ago the United States let him down, stole a piece of him that it never intended to give back, a piece that it couldn't give back. Pollard went on with his life and overall it's been a pretty good life, but it was a life with guards up. Guards that Pollard had vowed to never lower ever again. He couldn't afford to. He couldn't afford to get his hopes up that anyone representing the nation that had wronged him would ever attempt to make amends. Towards the end of his speech the president's voice breaks. There are tears in his eyes. Charles Pollard is not surprised to find that in this moment there are tears in his eyes too. Even though the Tuskegee experiments ended in 1972, its lasting harm cannot be overstated. From the moment the story broke many African Americans found their worst suspicions about the government confirmed. For many black people grappling with the facts of the study, there was only one conclusion to make, the United States could not be trusted. This belief had real consequences. When the AIDS crisis began in the 1980s many African Americans were suspicious, memories of Tuskegee headlines on their minds. Here was a disease they believed was likely created by government doctors and unleashed on black communities with the intent to facilitate genocide. Contraceptive advice was ignored and treatment not pursued. The results constituted a tragic national emergency as AIDS ripped through the African American community. By 1992 black people accounted for close to 30% of AIDS cases. That year an op ed was published in the New York Times to cry in black dismissal evaves due to mistrust of the government as quote astonishing bizarre paranoia. Many denounced the article, including H. William Howard, president of the New York Theological Seminary. Howard responded to the op ed by writing the black skepticism of AIDS was the inevitable result of black people's living in a society in which we are so alienated from the mainstream that many of us believe America will stop at nothing to eliminate us. One time, three year wrote that the op ed in and of itself wreaks of an insensitivity to the history of blacks in this country and why they would have good reasons if you conspired against. As proof, he cited the Tuskegee experiment. Today, wide health disparities remain between black and white Americans. African American women are three to four times more likely to die during or after childbirth than white women. And in some cities, white people's life expectancy is 20 years longer than their black peers. There are many explanations but precious few answers. Writing for the Atlantic, Olga Hazon observed, African Americans face a greater risk of death at practically every stage of life. America's racist and segregationist history continues to harm black people in the most intimate ways, seizing into their lives, their blood, even their DNA. Next, on American scandal, a conversation about how racial disparities in healthcare persist today will talk with journalists Priscan Neely from Southern California Public Radio about her reporting on infant mortality and why African American babies die at a shocking rate. From Wondery, this is American scandal. Just a quick note about our reenactments. We can't always know exactly what was said, but everything in our show is based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham, for airship, sound designed by Derek Barons. This episode is written by Hannibal Diaz, editing by Casey Meiner. Executive producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Pakman, and her nonlopes for Wondery.