Media Resource

BackStory: Another Burden to Bear

Tuskegee Syphilis Study
Photo caption

A doctor drawing blood from a patient that is part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

This episode of the NEH-funded BackStory—“Another Burden to Bear”—discusses the history of racial health disparities in the U.S. The episode features discussions about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, racism within mental health care, efforts to combat tuberculosis in Native American communities during the 1920s, and the political activism of the Madrigal Ten. 

A full transcript of this episode can be found on the BackStory website.

Audio file

Bad Blood (1:08-03:14)

Bad Blood discusses the forty-year-long Tuskegee Syphilis Study directed by the Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute. Under the guise of receiving free healthcare from the federal government, the organizers of the study intended to use Black men afflicted with syphilis to study the natural history of the disease.

Comprehension Questions 

  • Why did the Tuskegee Institute and the Public Health Service neither inform the men of their condition nor give them treatment? 

  • What are the long-term consequences of this study? 

  • To what extent should those involved be held accountable for allowing this study to occur? 

Mental Health, Malpractice, and Marginalization (5:19- 25:20)

Mental Health, Malpractice, and Marginalization includes conversations with scholars about the challenges African American patients contend with when trying to secure mental health care. 

Comprehension Questions 

  • How was medical science used to justify slavery? 

  • What is moral therapy? How was it racialized at asylums? 

  • How did the civil rights movement change the field of medicine? 

  • How were mental illnesses used to target Black activism and resistance

Fighting Invisible Enemies (26:18- 37:50)

Fighting Invisible Enemies focuses on how the long-term consequences of the physical and cultural genocide of Native Americans left them susceptible to infectious diseases. In this segment, scholars discuss the efforts of field nurses to combat the disease on reservations across the country. 

Comprehension Questions 

  • What caused the spread of tuberculosis on reservations? 

  • How did perceptions of Native American reservations and tuberculosis by government officials hinder efforts to combat the spread of the disease on reservations?  

  • How did the field nurses work with Native Americans to reduce the number of deaths from infectious diseases? 

  • What are the similarities between the efforts undertaken by the field nurses during the 1920s and contemporary public health responses? 

The Madrigal Ten (38:07-54:50)

The Madrigal Ten discusses the story behind the federal lawsuit Madrigal v Quilligan. The segment delves into the efforts of a group of Latina women who were sterilized under coercion or without being able to give consent.  

Comprehension Questions 

  • Who were the Madrigal Ten? 

  • How did the public learn about this case? 

  • Why were Latina women targeted for sterilization? 

  • What are the long-term impacts of this case in the medical field? 

  • Why do you think the judge dismissed the testimonies of the women in the second part of the case? 

EDSITEment Resources

EDSITEment offers a collection of lesson plans and other resources to help students learn about political and social activism as well as the intersections between science and the humanities.