Intended for healthcare professionals


Bill Jenkins: epidemiologist and activist who blew the whistle on the US government’s Tuskegee syphilis study

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 29 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1502
  1. Rebecca Wallersteiner
  1. London, UK
  1. wallersteiner{at}
Photo courtesy of the American Friends Service Committee

William (“Bill”) Carter Jenkins was born in Mt Pleasant, South Carolina, in the US, in 1945, the son of Albert Jenkins, an undertaker and restaurant owner, and his wife, Martha, a schoolteacher. He excelled at high school, where he read assiduously and developed an interest in science and political activism. He graduated from the historically black Morehouse College, in Atlanta, Georgia, with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and, in the 1960s, was one of the first African-Americans recruited to the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the public health service. He received a doctorate in epidemiology from the University of North Carolina in 1983 and did postdoctoral work in biostatistics at Harvard University School of Public Health. Also in 1983 he married fellow epidemiologist Diane Rowley, and they enjoyed a happy marriage.

Rowley said that her husband had been an activist since school when he registered people to vote. At college, in the 1960s, he was a foot soldier in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was imprisoned, along with future Georgia congressman John Lewis, for demonstrating against a white only restaurant. Later, Jenkins helped found an underground publication, The Drum, dealing with problems of racism and inequality at work. He is best known for blowing the whistle on the Tuskegee syphilis study, while still a government employee.

“Bad blood”

Jenkins had started a promising career at the US Public Health …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription