Where is Nurse Eunice Rivers buried?

Updated: May 26, 2020

Some call Nurse Eunice Rivers, a victim or a villain. She was the nurse hired by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) to help conduct a study of the effects of untreated syphilis in black men. 399 men with late latent syphilis and 201 men without syphilis were part of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment in Macon County, Alabama that lasted for 40 years (1932 to 1972).

Rivers was born on November 12, 1899. She attended Tuskegee Institute, graduating from the School of Nursing in 1922. She was a member of Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church. She was the Women's Bible Study Teacher, was on the Women's Missionary and Religious Education Board and she organized the first nurses guild. In 1952, she married Julius Laurie.

These men were told that they had "Bad Blood" and was promised free health care, a meal, and treatment. During the experiment, they were examined, underwent painful spinal taps and blood drawn. They suffered from excruciating pain, blindness, and many health problems. Wives of the victims were infected and newborn babies.

In the 1940s, there was a cure for syphilis by taking penicillin, but the men were not notified and treated. The experiment continued until it was exposed by the Washington Post and New York Times in 1972.

In 1973, Mr. Charlie Pollard, a Tuskegee Syphilis victim, with the help of Fred Gray, a civil rights attorney, filed a class-action lawsuit (Pollard v. the United States) on behalf of the men that participated in the experiment and the families that were infected.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") the lawsuit was settled out of court for $10 million dollars. The remaining survivors of the experiment received an estimated $37,500, heirs of deceased syphilitic group participants received $15,000, living control group participants received $16,000 and heirs of deceased control group participants received $5,000. The U.S. government provided lifetime medical and health benefits and burial services to all the participants. In 1975, families, widows and wives were added to The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program.

Charlie Pollard, Tuskegee Experiment Victim

Civil Rights Attorney Fred Gray

On May 16, 1997, President Clinton, invited survivors and family members to the White House and offered an apology to the mistreatment of the men that took part in the study.

"To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry." - President Bill Clinton."

It's estimated that 120 of the 399 men with syphilis died of the disease or its complications. The last living survivor of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Ernest Hendon, died January 16, 2004, at the age of 96. The last widow receiving the Tuskegee Health Benefit Program died in January 2009.

I traveled to Alabama to learn more about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. I went to visit the Tuskegee Human & Civil Rights Multicultural Center. It was very painful to see on the floor the names of the men who were victimized and eventually died at the hands of U.S. Government that was supposed to protect them.

I thought to myself, this could have been my dad, uncle, brother, cousin, friend, etc. Now, I know why a lot of African Americans don't like going to the doctor. The trust has been broken. They are less likely to seek medical care.