1997 May 16

President Clinton Apologizes for Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment


The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was arguably the most notorious abuse of human rights in a government-sponsored medical experiment. Begun in the 1930s, the experiment allowed African-Americans with syphilis to be studied but not treated. The experiment was exposed by a leaked story to the New York Times on July 26, 1972.

On this day, President Bill Clinton apologized for the experiment, and invited the surviving eight subjects/victims to the White House for the ceremony. His action is one of the rare instances of a president apologizing to a group for a violation of their rights. President Clinton also distinguished himself on September 27, 1997 by honoring Little Rock Nine, the group of African American students whose courageous attempt to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the face of a hostile mob provoked a national crisis (see September 23, 1957).

The exposé of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment helped spur federal regulation of biomedical research to protect human subjects from abuse (see July 12, 1974; September 30, 1978).

President Clinton: “The eight men who are survivors of the syphilis study at Tuskegee are a living link to a time not so very long ago that many Americans would prefer not to remember but we dare not forget. It was a time when our Nation failed to live up to its ideals, when our Nation broke the trust with our people that is the very foundation of our democracy. It is not only in remembering that shameful past that we can make amends and repair our Nation, but it is in remembering that past that we can build a better present and a better future. And without remembering it, we cannot make amends, and we cannot go forward.”

Read President Clinton’s full apology: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=54144&st=&st1=#axzz2iDBeNchd

Read about the experiment: James H. Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, New and Expanded Edition (1992)

Watch a video on the shameful experiment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-YMdaEdbcg

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