On Feb. 11, 2012, the EttaGrace Black Theatre Company presented a talk back session after the matinee performance of Miss Evers’ Boys.
Dr. Jeffrey Botkin, associate vice president for research integrity at the University of Utah, joined the director and cast of the play to discuss the Tuskegee Study’s impacts on the medical research community and how it affected them through the play.
Doctors studied the effects of untreated syphilis in the Negro male in Tuskegee from 1932 until the early 1970s.
The men, who could have received treatment as early as 1946 with the invention of penicillin, were left to suffer nerve issues that affected the legs, heart issues and madness until they finally died.
“It’s hard to overstate the impact of this one study on research,” Botkin said.
The study came to light at a time when the nation was involved in civil rights and found fertile ground for civic outrage.
New ethical standards
The principles for ethical studies were established in the late 1970s.
An infrastructure was developed for overseeing research. The peer review process was established and informed consent became the standard.
The need to review and reanalyze studies every year also came out of the Tuskegee Study.
“The contemporary standards are not uniform across the globe, but they are remarkably consistent,” Botkin said. “Studies of the scope and the tragedy of the Tuskegee Study cannot occur in our system.”
The Actors share their thoughts
Latoya Rhodes, who played the title character of Miss Evers, said she was unaware of the study before she tried out for the play. It made her sick, but she had to not push her judgments on Miss Evers.
For Actor Ricardo Eugene, who played Hodman Bryan, the play hit home.
“I took it, one as educational and two, ‘How do I portray this character?'” Eugene said. “I couldn’t necessarily say he was angry. I couldn’t bring that into his character. I kept it unbiased, but it did educate me.”
Eugene didn’t know anything about the Tuskegee Study and called it shameful.
“It is part of our history and it is something we don’t ever want to repeat,” he said.
Artistic Director Richard Scott said that the play makes it clear that there are people that make these abominable decisions.
“The script brings the humanity to the event,” Scott said.
Sean Carter originally tried out for the part of Caleb Humphries, but won the role of Willie Johnson instead.
“It’s the most challenging role I’ve had,” Carter said. Carter found that Johnson’s willingness to trust people, his naiveté, happiness and perseverance trickled into his life off stage.
Miss Evers’ Boys is loosely based on the book Bad Blood by James H. Jones.