How the US Government used Black people as guinea pigs

How the US Government used Black people as guinea pigs
  • PublishedOctober 1, 2012

Ebb Cade’s horrific ordeal

In 1945, African-American Ebb Cade was secretly injected with plutonium, the substance used to make nuclear bombs. Cade, a 53-year-old truck driver, was taken to a hospital in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, after breaking several of his bones in a car accident. He became an unwitting guinea pig in a deadly government experiment, and did not realise the doctors caring for him were also employed by the US Atomic Energy Commission. The doctors had been ordered to find out what exposure to plutonium did to the human body.

Injured and helpless in a hospital bed, Ebb Cade was injected with 0.29 microcuries of plutonium-239, more than 40 times the amount a person might expect to be exposed to in an entire lifetime.

A researcher who worked at the hospital in the 1940s described it as “a whopping dose” years later. In their efforts to see the effects of plutonium, the researchers pulled out 15 of Cade’s teeth to measure plutonium levels in his system. They also collected chips of his bones for study. Held in the hospital for more than six months, Cade rightly suspected that it did not take this long for his broken bones to heal and that he was, in fact, being kept in hospital to be used as a guinea pig.

So, his broken limbs healed, Cade fled the hospital when doctors and nurses were not looking. But he could not escape what the secret nuclear experiments had done to him. Described by doctors when he arrived at the hospital in Oak Ridge as a “well developed and well nourished coloured male in good health”, Cade died a few years later of heart failure, aged 61.

Undaunted by what it had done to Cade in 1945, the US government targeted other African-Americans for experimentation in the 1950s. Early in that decade, the CIA and the US military released close to half a million mosquitoes infected with yellow fever and dengue fever into several black neighbourhoods in Florida.

The mosquitoes were dropped from planes in special paper bags designed to burst open when they hit the ground, sending the infected insects off to bite as many African-Americans as they could. The military wanted to find out whether the mosquitoes could prove to be an effective weapon of war that could be used to infect, incapacitate, and kill America’s enemies.

Dozens of African-Americans in the mostly black city of Avon Park, in South Florida, became ill and at least eight residents died from the invasion of the mosquitoes. “Nobody knew about what had gone on here for years,” said a long-time resident of Avon Park. “But in looking back, it explained why a bunch of healthy people got sick and died at the time of those experiments.”

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