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20 Experiments Conducted on African Americans in the U.S.

Updated: May 5, 2021

The title "20 Experiments Conducted on African Americans in the U.S." is an evident trigger warning, however, I still want to do my due diligence to show concern for the mental well-being of our people. So, please only proceed if you are in a decent enough headspace to do so as this post contains information and images that will take some mental/emotional fortitude to process. I have made it a little easier to digest by only scratching the surface of each subject, feel free to do further research at your discretion. Also, if you are not seeing a black therapist I highly advise you to research one as I firmly believe that we all should be seeking therapy to heal collectively from the centuries and centuries of trauma we have endured as a race. The following is a compiled timeline of the gruesome and horrifying experiments conducted on our people during and post-slavery.

1.) 1801: Thomas Jefferson inoculated over 200 enslaved Africans with the cowpox vaccine in a trial to test its efficiency against smallpox.

2.) 1817: In Charleston, South Carolina, Elias S. Bennett performed an experimental procedure on an enslaved African girl without experience, supervision, or anesthesia on a James Island plantation. By the age of 6, the procedure caused the child’s tumor to be the size of an ostrich egg, dying a few years later the remains of her skull became a pathological specimen in the University of Maryland museum collection.

3.) 1834: On April 10, 1834, Delphine LaLaurie was exposed for tormenting, mutilating, and experimenting on enslaved Africans in her mansion in New Orleans, Louisiana.

4.) 1845: James Marion Sims carried out a series of experimental operations on enslaved African females. One of his victims was seventeen-year-old Anarcha Wescott, who suffered 30 of his operations on her bladder, vagina, and rectum over four years without her consent or the use of anesthesia. James Marion Sims’ experiments concluded in 1849. He is credited as the “Father of Modern Gynecology”.

5.) 1846: Walter F. Jones records in his journals his horrifying experiments of pouring boiling water on the backs of enslaved Africans at four-hour intervals to test his theory that doing so would cure typhoid pneumonia.

6.) 1852: A physician in North Carolina named William Aiken experimented on an enslaved woman named Lucinda. William Aiken and other doctors disfigured her by boring holes in her head without the use of anesthesia.

7.) 1868: The Central State Lunatic Asylum for Colored Insane was established in Petersburg, Virginia. Many patients were admitted by force for reasons as simple as not stepping down from the sidewalk or talking back to an "authority figure".

8.) 1927: A radiation experiment was performed on ten children in Lyles Station, Indiana. One of the victims was five-year-old Vertus Hardiman, he suffered so much radiation that he was left with a hole in his head. The documentary “Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed” tells his story.

9.) 1932: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was a secret study conducted on 600 African American men in Tuskegee, Alabama without their knowledge. These men believed they were signing up for free medical treatment, insurance, and other promised incentives. The disturbing reality is that they signed up for an experiment that would study the progression of the syphilis virus in the human body without treatment, exposing the men to horrifying side effects and for some, death. This genocidal act known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment lasted for 40 years, ending in 1972.

10.) 1937: In a published article Mark Boyd describes an experiment he conducted where he infected 470 syphilitic African Americans with a deadly falciparum strain to test new treatments for neurosyphilis.

11.) 1939: During World War II, thousands of African American soldiers were experimented on with mustard gas and other chemical agents.

12.) 1945: Ebb Cade was the first person to be injected with plutonium against his will in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

13.) 1946: Walter Freeman begin performing experimental lobotomies, his preferred subjects were African Americans as he believed African Americans, especially women, made the best candidates to produce the results he desired.

14.) 1951: The cells of Henrietta Lacks were stolen by George Otto Gey for research without her knowledge or consent in Baltimore, Maryland.

15.) 1951: Medical experiments were conducted on Black inmates at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia from 1951 to 1974 under the direction of Albert Kligman.

16.) 1952: Chester M. Southam of the Sloan-Kettering Institute experimented on 180 Black inmates at the Ohio State Prison by injecting them with live human cancer cells.

17.) 1955: Operation Big Buzz - Mosquitos were deployed into black residential areas in Georgia. Also, research "Operation Big Itch" that occurred in Utah a year earlier in 1954.

18.) 1956: Operation Drop Kick - Mosquitos were released into Black residential areas in Savannah, Georgia to test the practicality of employing mosquitoes to carry an entomological warfare attack.

19.) 1960: Orlando J. Andy performed brain operations on African American boys that were labeled as having behavioral problems and considered to be difficult hyperactive children. He operated on at least a dozen victims ranging from ages 6 to 9, these experiments are discussed more in-depth in Harriet A. Washington’s 2007 released book “Medical Apartheid”.

20.) 1960: Eugene Saenger conducted experiments on African American cancer patients at the University of Cincinnati, where he and other researchers exposed the patients to large doses of radiation recording their mental and physical responses. This experiment was done to determine how much radiation a soldier could withstand before becoming disabled or disoriented in the event of a nuclear explosion. Eugene Saenger concluded the experiment in 1971. This was merely 50 years ago.


If you are still here and have made it through all twenty points I want to first thank you for reading. It was more than difficult for me to finish this post as I had to take different breaks and a few days to complete so I am sure that it may be more than difficult for the reader to finish this in one read. I hope you noticed two things: 1. that I did not refer to the aggressors with their medical titles as they do not deserve such respect/honor 2. that I referred to our Ancestors as enslaved Africans instead of merely "slaves" because our Ancestors deserve more respect than that. This post could be so much longer as there are so many examples that can be added. I believe that we have to know the severity and depth of what our people and Ancestors experienced in this country so that we can know how much we truly need to heal and how to protect ourselves moving forward into an uncertain future. Again, if you are not in counseling with a Black Therapist please resource one at your earliest convenience. Thanks again for reading and please share. Peace and Blessings.


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