Black Journal
Episode Number
The Tuskegee Study: A Human Experiment
Producing Organization
WNET (Television station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
Library of Congress (Washington, District of Columbia)
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Episode Description
The Emmy award-winning Black Journal returns for its fifth season with The Tuskegee Study: A Human Experiment. Tony Brown, executive producer and dean of the Howard University of Communications, once again hosts the show. The Tuskegee Study is a 40-year medical experiment conducted in rural Macon County, Alabama, by the United States Public Health Service to determine the effects of long-term untreated syphilis. Some 400 black men suffering from syphilis in 1932 were enrolled in the study. According to official reports, medical treatment was purposely withheld from these men so that the Public Health Service could determine the long-range effects of the disease on the human body through eventual autopsies. Black Journal took its camera crew to Macon County, to investigate the Tuskegee Study. Black Journal interviewed several doctors who were involved in the experiment, including Dr. John R. Heller, a former administering the program; Dr. J.W. Williams, a black Tuskegee physician, who worked as an intern in Macon County in the 1930s when the study began; and Dr. J.D. Millar, the chief of the venereal disease branch of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, who now supervises the program. Black Journal was able to secure and exclusive interview with Eunice Rivers, the public health nurse who had worked with the study since its inception in 1932, and also spoke with syphilitic patient Charlie W. Pollard, a participant in the study. According to newspaper reports, the Public Health Department maintains that the study, which has been described as genocidal and racist by some members of Congress, is justified. Black Journal interviewed outside medical experts to get objective medical opinions. The question of treatment with arsenicals is a case in point. Dr. Heller felt as, Dr. Vernal Cave, director of the Bureau of Venereal Disease Control of New York City and a member of the Health, Education and Welfare panel set up to investigate the study, said Doctors at that time had confidence in the treatment of syphilis with arsenicals and did not withhold treatment. Referring to the study directly, he said, No treatment can hardly be accepted as an excuse. What were the potential risks of non-treatment? Were private doctors allowed to treat the patients? Why was penicillin, an accepted form of treatment of syphilis since the early 1950s, never used on the patients? Two highly sensitive questions that Black Journal focuses on are: Was there a risk of spreading the disease to women and unborn children? And why havent the moral and ethical questions of this human experiment been raised before by the medical community, which has been aware of the study for over 30 years? (It has been the subject of 15 papers published in American medical literature.) Black Journal is a production of NET Division, Educational Broadcasting Corporation (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche)
Series Description
Black Journal began as a monthly series produced for, about, and to a large extent by black Americans, which used the magazine format to report on relevant issues to black Americans. Starting with the October 5, 1071 broadcast, the show switched to a half-hour weekly format that focused on one issue per week, with a brief segment on black news called Grapevine. Beginning in 1973, the series changed back into a hour long show and experimented with various formats, including a call-in portion. From its initial broadcast on June 12, 1968 through November 7, 1972, Black Journal was produced under the National Educational Television name. Starting on November 14, 1972, the series was produced solely by WNET/13. Only the episodes produced under the NET name are included in the NET Collection. For the first part of Black Journal, episodes are numbered sequential spanning broadcast seasons. After the 1971-72 season, which ended with episode #68, the series started using season specific episode numbers, beginning with #301. The 1972-73 season spans #301 - 332, and then the 1973-74 season starts with #401. This new numbering pattern continues through the end of the series.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
Race and Ethnicity
Media type
Moving Image
Executive Producer: Brown, Tony
Host: Brown, Tony
Interviewee: Williams, J. W.
Interviewee: Heller, John R.
Interviewee: Millar, J. D.
Interviewee: Pollard, Charlie W.
Interviewee: Rivers, Eunice
Producing Organization: WNET (Television station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Library of Congress
Identifier: 2278414-1 (MAVIS Item ID)
Format: 2 inch videotape
Generation: Master
Color: Color
Duration: 0:29:08
Library of Congress
Identifier: 2278414-3 (MAVIS Item ID)
Generation: Copy: Access
Color: Color
Library of Congress
Identifier: 2278414-2 (MAVIS Item ID)
Generation: Master
Color: Color
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Chicago: “Black Journal; 301; The Tuskegee Study: A Human Experiment,” 1972-10-03, Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2023,
MLA: “Black Journal; 301; The Tuskegee Study: A Human Experiment.” 1972-10-03. Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2023. <>.
APA: Black Journal; 301; The Tuskegee Study: A Human Experiment. Boston, MA: Library of Congress, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from