Of all the symbols within the book, the Tuskegee Institute has one of the most dramatically double-sided legacies. On one hand, Tuskegee was the site of the cell-production factory where a staff of black, female technicians produced HeLa in order to help cure polio. This represented a huge and public step forward for African Americans and women, as these technicians became an integral part of one of the most celebrated medical advances of the 21st century. Yet at the same time, Tuskegee was also the home of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, one of the most infamously racist studies in American history, in which hundreds of black men were allowed to suffer and die from syphilis in the name of science. Thus Tuskegee represents on one hand the ways in which the medical establishment can aid underrepresented groups such as minorities and women, and on the other emblemizes the extent to which doctors victimized these same groups.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
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The timeline below shows where the symbol Tuskegee Institute appears in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: “Lady’s on the Phone”
...the mistreatment of African Americans by the scientific establishment. She fills readers in about the Tuskegee Institute scandal, in which U.S. Public Health officials watched black men die of syphilis. They... (full context)
Chapter 13: The HeLa Factory
...hears about HeLa and contracts William Scherer to create a HeLa Distribution Center at the Tuskegee Institute, “one of the most prestigious black universities in the country.” They choose this organization... (full context)
Chapter 23: “It’s Alive”