The organization/effects of the Civil Rights Movement and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment are two vital components of race relations that chiefly define how African-Americans were treated in the 1950s. These two events are evidence of the uniquely difficult sociopolitical status African-Americans had in the 1950s; the treatment of blacks by whites was negative to the point where African-Americans were actually experimented upon without significant consideration for research and medical ethics. Given the importance of civil rights, the way in which these initiatives are organized and used after the fact (in political narratives) must be examined, in order to prevent these serious breaches in medical ethics and social justice in the future. The 1950s saw the Civil Rights Movement finally picking up steam, with legislation, leadership, and the recognition of atrocities like the Tuskegee study bringing about significant and productive measures to increase racial equality.
The Tuskegee study is an important footnote in African American history due to the stigmatization of African Americans it demonstrated in the eyes of many Americans in the 1930s and beyond; by studying them instead of treating them, they were denied the help they should have received. More than 400 black men who were infected with syphilis were falsely told that they were receiving free medical, instead being robbed from treatment for decades as part of this federally funded experiment, leaving them to die and suffer for the sake of scientific curiosity. This experiment also unfairly singled out blacks as carriers of sexually transmitted diseases, as the overall goal was to find out if there were more than cosmetic differences between whites and blacks. This placed a significant setback in race relations, as African-Americans were literally treated like lab rats, and was a strong example of the flexible ethics of some scientists at the time. The U.S. Government did not release apologies or reparations to the men and their families affected by this atrocity until 1974; this demonstrates the government's unwillingness toward admitting its culpability in the experiment itself.
Both of the major articles on the Tuskegee experiment take different approaches to the implications of the Tuskegee syphilis study. In the case of Rothman, he looks at the feasibility of the study from a scientific point of view - in his eyes, the way in which the experiment was performed was not only unethical, it was also incorrect and sloppy, making the 'study in nature' completely useless. However, Thomas & Quinn place a higher emphasis on how the political fallout from the study led to an increasing distrust of whites on the part of African-Americans, and how that can negatively impact AIDS education. When combined, however, the experiment itself appears to have been highly racially motivated and damaging for race relations; the study was performed almost strictly to stigmatize blacks, and the fallout from this experiment has made it difficult for African-Americans and whites to move forward.
The existence of the Tuskegee syphilis study proved the necessity of the Civil Rights Movement, as significant changes to the black narrative needed to occur in order to prevent these unethical experiments. In the 1950s, significant progress in the Movement occurred as a combination of outrage at this study and the changing in the efforts and organization of those involved. Southern Democrats began to respond to the New Deal's provisions and activism to demand "local and state control over federal programs for housing, hospital construction, education and the like," adding to greater reconstruction post-Depression but stunting federal efforts to fight discrimination. This, in addition to increasing mechanization of blue-collar jobs, leaving more blacks out of work, increased wage and social disparities between whites and blacks, making the Civil Rights Movement even more necessary. The federal government, fighting back against inter-state efforts at discrimination, finally defeated a roadblock that Senate Southerners had set up to prevent the House-approved Civil Rights Bill from passing, providing Northern Democrats and Republicans with the ability to pass the bill. Civil rights forces now had the ability to prosecute, with the help of the Department of Justice, on behalf of individual citizens who were denied their civil rights. Section III of the bill, in particular, would permit the Justice Department to force integration in schoolsThese legislative victories for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s paved the way for greater social and political successes in the subsequent decade.
The social and political changes taken in the course of the Civil Rights Movement were accomplished through dramatic action and powerful organization, using grassroots initiatives and the participation of women in the leadership process (though only at an intermediate level). Women slowly became an increasingly important demographic in the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement. Women chiefly occupied an intermediate leadership role, providing moderate leadership in many local and regional cells of civil rights organizations. These intermediate layers of local leadership became vital to the Civil Rights Movement, as the inclusion of women in the groups also provided needed gender equality and solidarity. This decision also provided a larger base of activists, increasing mobilization of civil rights efforts throughout America in the 1950s. The ongoing threat of the Soviet Union, and its increasing leftist access to Congress and legislatures can also be credited with some successes of the movement, as antifascism and anticolonialism made the race issue an international one
Despite the hard work of those who fought hard to make civil rights a possibility, the movement itself is considered a balm in retrospect - there is significant backlash that occurs against further racism due to the fact that the Movement happened. Though it is generally agreed that it made significant progress in civil rights, the fact of its existence is used to downplay contemporary discriminatory practices, as racism "was limited to the South" and is not considered to happen anywhere else. In spite of these efforts, "the success of the movement depended not just on idealism and courage, but on a keen understanding and ready use of the fulcrums of power," which came into play heavily in the aforementioned civil rights bills and anti-discrimination laws, which finally saw some significant progress in the 1950s.
In conclusion, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, reeling from deeply-entrenched discrimination and dehumanizing through things like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, found substantial progress in the face of changing politics and organization tactics. The Tuskegee study demonstrated the federal government's existing problems treating African-Americans with a degree of humanity and ethics, particularly with regards to scientific experimentation. In the 1950s, legislation and changing attitudes, stemming in part from the Cold War's influence on Americans, led to anti-discrimination legislation finally being pushed through Congress. Increasing mobilization and gender equality in the organization of the Civil Rights Movement as a whole also played a significant factor, as women played an important part in its mid-level leadership. Overall, it was these factors and events that paved the way for an even more successful and politically-charged time for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Hall, J.D. The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past. The Journal of American History 4 (Vol. 91, Mar. 2005): 1233-1263.
Robnett, B. African-American Women in the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965: Gender, Leadership and Micromobilization. American Journal of Sociology 6 (Vol. 101, May 1996): 1661-1693.
Rothman, D.J. Were Tuskeegee & Willowbrook 'studies in nature'? Hastings Center Report (1982): 5-7.
S.B. Thomas, S.B. & Quinn, S.C.The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 1932 to 1972: Implications for HIV education and AIDS risk education programs in the black community. American Journal of Public Health, 11 (Vol. 81, 1982): 1498-1504.
William S. White. "Civil Rights Survives Gettysburg - Now For Appomattox." The New York Times June 23, 1957. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851- 2009).
William S. White. "Move to Weaken Civil Rights Bill Splits Coalition." The New York Times July 18, 1957. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009).
C.K. Yoon, "Families Emergy as Silent Victims of Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment." The New York Times May 12, 1997. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009).