Joe Biden Conflates Tuskegee Airman With Tuskegee Syphilis Study

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President Joe Biden on Thursday blamed vaccine hesitancy among black Americans on the past experimentation by the U.S. government on the Tuskegee Airman, conflating the famed World War II pilots with the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

“The reason why it’s been harder to get African Americans, initially, to get vaccinated because they are used to being experimented on — the Tuskegee Airmen and others,” Biden said.

While originating in Tuskegee, Alabama, the Tuskegee Airman are famous for being the first group of African American fighter pilots to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps. First trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama in 1941, they would later go on to fly more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Altogether, the estimated number of participants ranged from 15,000 to 19,000, including pilots, mechanics, flight instructors, doctors, and more.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, on the other hand, was an experiment conducted by the U.S. government from 1932-1972 to “observe the progression of a number of diseases, particularly syphilis, untreated in black males.” More than 600 men agreed to participate in the study in exchange for meals, transportation, and health care.

While a viable treatment did not exist at the beginning of the study, penicillin became widely available by 1947. This treatment option was kept secret from the study’s participants, however. The experiments continued until 1972, only ending after the Associated Press broke the story on the study and following a class-action lawsuit filed against the U.S. Public Health Service that led to $9 million being paid out to the victims.

This isn’t the first time Biden has conflated the two Tuskegee events. During an interview with YouTuber Jackie Aina last month, the president once again got his history wrong.

“By the way, many of the older members of that community had memories of experimentation on black Americans that were not told about, like what happened, with the, you know, Tuskegee Airmen and all those tests,” Biden said. “And so there was a great reluctance.”