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New York fund apologizes for role in Tuskegee syphilis study

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Fifty years after the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study was revealed to the public and halted, the organization that made funeral payments to the families of survivors, the Milbank Memorial Fund, publicly apologized to descendants of the study’s victim – Black men who were essentially used as human guinea pigs by the United States government. 

In a community ravaged by poverty and racism, the payments issued from Milbank were vital to survivors of the victims who had little left after the loss of their loved one. Unbeknownst to them, these payments were not gifts, but instead ‘bribe money’ used to coaxe widows or other loved ones to consent to letting doctors slice open the bodies of the dead men for autopsies that would detail the ravages of a disease the victims were subjected to and told was “bad blood.”

Milbank was in partnership with the United States government and stood by for almost 40 years as hundreds of Black men died of syphilis in Alabama. To ensure that researchers could study the disease, the NY foundation covered funeral expenses for the deceased. 

“It was wrong. We are ashamed of our role. We are deeply sorry,” said the current president of the Milbank fund, Christopher F. Koller.

During a ceremony in Tuskegee at a gathering of children and other relatives of men who were part of the study, the apology and an accompanying monetary donation was made to a descendants’ group, the Voices for Our Fathers Legacy Foundation

Koller went on to say that there is no easy way to explain how its leaders in the 1930s decided to make the payments, or to justify what happened. 

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