by Yvette Carnell
By now most people know about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, but what many don’t know is that this was just one in a long line of experiments conducted on African-Americans. The experiments actually began during slavery, when African-Americans were treated no better than field animals, and continued from there. Below is a list of the most heinous experiments conducted on African-Americans.
1. Experiments on slaves by slave owners were conducted en masse, long before the Tuskegee experiments. In his memoir, former slave John Brown described how his master, Dr. Thomas Hamilton of Georgia, tørtured him with homemade medical experiments. Brown described how he was made to sit naked in a stool atop a burning pit as part of Dr. Hamilton’s experiment. “I could not have helped myself. There was nothing for it but passive resignation, and I gave myself up in ignorance and in much fear,” wrote Brown. After temperatures reached 100 degrees, Brown passed while Dr. Hamilton stood by with a thermometer. In another experiment, the good Dr. attempted to determine how deep black skin goes by blistering Brown’s hand and feet. Slaves provided antebellum doctors with their own personal guinea pigs.
2. It wasn’t just slave owners who were conducting experiments on slaves, but hospitals posted announcements for slaves to be used in experiments. In the 1850’s, Dr. T. Stillman placed an add for “sick Negroes” and slave masters were happy to hand over ill or elderly slaves who could no longer work. It was a win-win for slave owners who got back their slaves if they were healed, and if they weren’t healed, then hospitals paid for the burial. The slaves who were taken in by Stillman and his experiment had no legal rights.
3. Until the 1970’s, prisons conducted experiments on prisoners, most of whom were black. At Philadelphia’s Holmesburg prison, Dow Chemical paid to test potential carcinogens on the mostly black prison population. Many prisoners developed cancers, skin conditions, and mental illness as a result of their experimentation.
4. “I went to the Dr. who did that to me and asked him ‘why’…. I would love to have had children,” said Fannie Lou Hamer. While on the plantation, Hamer had developed a knot on her stomach. When she went to see the physician, he removed her uterus as well as the knot, preventing her from ever having children.
In the ‘big house’, the plantation owner’s wife joked about how Hamer had lost more than a tumor when she was in the hospital, and the news eventually got back to Hamer. Hamer went on to become a voting and civil rights activist. Hamer was only one of many African-American women who were sterilized, a practice which became a favorite of white doctors. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, trafficked in stereotypes and used the Negro Project to decrease black fertility.
5. In 1945, a black trucker named Ebb Cade was in an accident where nearly all of his bones were broken. While he was in the hospital, doctors gave him a toxic dose of plutonium. Before the plutonium could totally devastate his body, Cade must’ve gotten wind of what was going on because he escaped from the hospital. Unbeknownst to him, he’d became part of a study for which he never gave his consent. Cade died eight days after leaving the hospital. He was the first, but not last, African-American to be injected with uranium or plutonium as part of a radiation experiment. Former Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary declassified information on government experiments on unsuspecting African-Americans.
6. Charisse Johnson and her husband received a knock on the door from researchers at Columbia University who wanted to interview her 16 year old son Isaac, who was being held in a detention center. Isaac’s parents signed off on the interviews and tests, which they were told would be used to determine whether Isaac might have medical problems. Little did she know that Columbia University, in cooperation with the New York State Psychiatric Institute, was conducting an experiment on her son in an effort to establish a genetic connection between black boys to violence. The boys were given fenfluramine, which causes serotonin levels to rise.