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Tue, 02.12.1907

Ernest Hendon, Sharecropper, and Landscaper born

Ernest Hendon

*Ernest Hendon was born on this date in 1907. He was a Black landscaper and sharecropper. He also was the last unwitting surviving participant in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

From Roba, Alabama, Ernest Herndon was the son of North and Mary Reed Hendon, sharecroppers. The family resided in rural Alabama, where Ernest Hendon spent his childhood working the family farm. Hendon studied agriculture at the Macon County Training School. When his father died in 1933, Hendon helped his mother raise his nine siblings: Willie Harvey, Mary Lou, Johngiene, Mable, Louie, Girlie, Lydar, Willion, and North.

The family was poor, enduring days of laboring under unforgiving weather conditions, tending small plots of land, and picking cotton. Living in a rural area where doctor visits were rare, the men in the study were induced to participate by the promise of free health care, free transportation to and from hospitals, and free hot lunches when they got there.

The study was the U.S. government's 40-year analysis of the effects of untreated syphilis on a group of Black men in the rural American South. The study began in 1932 and ended in 1972 after former Public Health Service investigator Peter Buxton exposed the study's unethical procedures to an Associated Press reporter. Ernest Hendon, who was in the control group that did not have syphilis died on January 16, 2004, of natural causes associated with aging in a hospital in Opelika, Ala., according to his niece, Dorothy Thomas.

Mr. Hendon was one of 623 Black men who unwittingly participated in the U. S. Public Health Service study of "the effects of untreated syphilis in the Negro male." He was the last citizen to survive the government study. Hendon, who grew up on the family farm with nine siblings, told the Associated Press in 2001 that he had no idea what he was getting into. "They said it was a study that would do you good," he said.

Ernest Hendon, who never married, is survived by a sister, Willion Chambliss of Tuskegee; and two brothers, Willard and North, both of Cleveland, OH.


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