Now, 50 years after the syphilis study was publicly exposed and halted, the foundation has apologized for aiding researchers in killing hundreds of Black men to study the disease, per the Associated Press.
During the time of the study, the Milbank Memorial Fund schemed with health officials and offered money to victims' loved ones to cover funeral expenses, but in exchange, the families had to allow doctors to slice open the bodies of the dead men for autopsies.
On Saturday (June 11), the organization that made those funeral payments apologized and committed a monetary donation to the Voices for Our Fathers Legacy Foundation, a group dedicated to the descendants of the men used as subjects in the Tuskegee syphilis study.
President of the fund, Christopher F. Koller, said, “It was wrong. We are ashamed of our role. We are deeply sorry."
Koller noted that there's no explanation to justify why leaders in the 1930s decided to make payments.
The effects of the Tuskegee experiment have lasted generations as many Black Americans today still distrust government healthcare.
“The upshot of this was real harm,” Koller told The Associated Press. “It was one more example of ways that men in the study were deceived. And we are dealing as individuals, as a region, as a country, with the impact of that deceit.”
Beginning in the 1930s, government officials in Tuskegee, Alabama purposely left Black men with syphilis untreated so doctors could study the disease and dissect their dead bodies afterward. According to historian Susan M. Reverby, the Milbank fund gave out $20,150, which was crucial in persuading families to agree to the autopsies.
Koller said the fund dove back into its ties with the racist experiment during the nation's racial reckoning following George Floyd's murder.
“Both staff and board felt like we had to face up to this in a way that we had not before,” Koller said.