Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
After retiring from the Air Force in 2009, I diligently pursued my passion in genealogy. During an oral interview my Cousin Jaime disclosed his sister, Ava’s suspicion that the hereditary illness in our family was somehow linked to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Suddenly, suppressed childhood stories of the family illness being rooted in syphilis and/or polio permeated my mind. I tried to connect my family’s geography to Tuskegee, Alabama, but to no avail. I started interviewing the elders in our family and my Cousin Jean Halliburton disclosed the Noel family lived on the Henning Farm in Tennessee, the same farm as Simon Alexander Haley, father of the late Alex Haley.
In February 2010, I was the keynote speaker for Black History Month on Hurlburt Field AFB, and the late, Chief Master Sergeant (Retired) USAF, Walter Richardson was a special guest. Chief Richardson invited me to his Congressional Gold Medal of Honor Ceremony to offically acknowledge him as a Documented Original Tuskegee Airman. At his ceremony I sensed the Lord speaking to me after I discovered Chief Richardson graduated from Booker T. Washington High School and had been assigned to Rickenbacker Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio (once home to the distinguished Tuskegee Airman).
On my way home, I wrestled with the connection and said, “Speak Lord, Speak to me.” Once again, I attempted to connect my Ohio family with Tuskegee, then called my girlfriend, Myrna, a Tuskegee University alumnus to inquire about her knowledge of the Tuskegee Study. Myrna had limited knowledge about the study. I recalled several months prior when I helped my son, Tavaris with his Black History Month project on Booker T. Washington and the picture of Tuskegee University on it, then called the Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University. I spoke to the executive director about my cousin’s suspicion of our family’s presumed involvement in the Tuskegee Study and he disclosed the United States Public Health Service (PHS) conducted a study before the Tuskegee Study, known as the Rosenwald Fund Study involving six southern states (MS, AL, GA, NC, VA, and TN). Subsequently, my research into the Rosenwald Fund Study began. The state of Tennessee deviated from the other five states and conducted the study on family units because families were known to congregate. Presumably, the hereditary family illness that has taken the lives of nine of my family members from three generations is linked to the Tennessee family-unit study.
Chief Walter Richardson holding 7 Days in the Fire by Helen Noel
& Chief Helen Noel holding How Great Thou Art by Walter Richardson