University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

President Bill Clinton’s Apology for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study at the White House — May 16, 1997

Herman Shaw, Tuskegee Study participant, after the White House ceremony.

Herman Shaw, Tuskegee Study participant, after the White House ceremony.

On May 16, 1997, five of the eight surviving participants of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and the members of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Legacy Committee gathered at the White House and witnessed the President’s apology on behalf of the United States government.

Charlie W. Pollard, Study Participant

Charlie W. Pollard, Study Participant

 

 

 

Survivors of the Study at Tuskegee:

President Clinton’s full remarks may be found in the National Archives.

President Clinton greets Joan Echtenkamp Klein. Photo courtesy of the White House

President Clinton greets Joan Echtenkamp Klein. Photo courtesy of the White House

After brief remarks by Vice President Al Gore and Dr. David Satcher of the Centers for Disease Control, President Bill Clinton was introduced by one of the Study’s survivors, Macon County resident Herman Shaw. Mr. Shaw expressed his approval of the President’s action, saying, “in my opinion, it is never too late to work to restore trust and faith.” But Shaw also called for a permanent memorial so that future generations might learn about what happened. “We were treated unfairly, to some extent like guinea pigs,” Shaw said. “The wounds that were inflicted upon us cannot be undone.”

 

Committee members Patricia Clay, Anthony Winn, and Dr. Vanessa Northington Gamble, Committee Chair

Committee members Patricia Clay, Anthony Winn, and Dr. Vanessa Northington Gamble, Committee Chair

 

Professor James H. Jones, author of Bad Blood, the authoritative work about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Professor James H. Jones, author of Bad Blood, the authoritative work about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

President Clinton recounted the injustice done to the Study participants and concluded, “what was done cannot be undone but we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye, and finally say, on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful and I am sorry.”

The President also praised the survivors for their spirit of forgiveness, saying, “Today all we can do is apologize but you have the power. Only you have the power to forgive. Your presence here shows us that you have shown a better path than your government did so long ago. You have not withheld the power to forgive. I hope today and tomorrow every American will remember your lesson and live by it.” President Clinton announced government bioethics fellowships for minority students funded by the Department of Health and Human Services. He also proposed a $200,000 planning grant for a bioethics center at Tuskegee University, which was not affiliated with the Study but whose reputation has been tarnished by it.

Program Remarks by:

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