In the midst of an intensifying coronavirus pandemic, historic failures in government response to disasters, medical abuse, neglect and exploitation have jaded generations of African Americans into a distrust of public institutions.
Some might call it the “Tuskegee effect," referring to the U.S. government's once-secret human experiment on black men in Alabama that one study later showed reduced African Americans' life expectancy due to distrust of medical science.
For 40 years starting in 1932, medical workers in the segregated South withheld treatment from unsuspecting men infected with syphilis so that doctors could track the ravages of the illness and dissect their bodies afterward.
In order to track progression, researchers in the Tuskegee experiment didn't provide adequate care for the disease's advanced effects like blindness and psychiatric symptoms. Even when penicillin became the drug of choice for syphilis in 1947, researchers didn't offer it to the patients.
Finally exposed in 1972, the study ended and the men sued, resulting in a $9 million settlement.
How well the government and medical community respond to the current crisis will be especially crucial for outcomes among black Americans, civil rights advocates and medical experts say.
Especially now. Surgeon General Jerome Adams has offered some of the starkest warnings yet as he braces all Americans for the worsening fallout from the new coronavirus.
He said in a television interview on "Fox News Sunday" that “this is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans' lives, quite frankly.”
The number of people infected in the U.S. has exceeded 300,000, with the death toll climbing past 8,400.
Adams tells that ”this is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized."