A large oak tree stands in front of the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Notasulga, Alabama. Participants in the U.S. Public Health Study of Untreated Syphilis in Negro Males in Macon County, Alabama would meet under this tree to wait for nurse Eunice Rivers, the Shiloh school nurse, to provide them with medications, update health histories or transport them to Tuskegee for “treatment.” Nurse Rivers was an integral part of the horrific study that lasted from 1932 to 1972 as she had been employed to solicit male participants.
The Public Health Service started working with the Tuskegee Institute in 1932. Investigators enrolled in the study over 600 impoverished sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama. Approximately 400 of those men had syphilis and the remaining 200 plus did not have the disease. The men were given free medical care, meals, and free burial insurance, for participating in the study. They were never told they had syphilis, nor were they ever treated for it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood”, a local term for various illnesses that include syphilis, anemia, and fatigue.
Approximately 50 members of the Shiloh Church were enlisted to receive treatments for the “bad blood.” None of the men were ever told the true nature of their disease nor were they offered any treatment, even after penicillin was available.
Many of the men are buried in the Shiloh Cemetery.