Monument Unveiled to Recognize Tuskegee University for Work in Polio Vaccine Development

A monument has been unveiled at Tuskegee University in recognition of its efforts in the development of the polio vaccine, which has saved countless lives over recent decades.

Thursday, the monument was shown publicly for the first time outside John A. Kenny Hall. Tuskegee University President Dr. Charlotte Morris was among the speakers.

Research conducted at what was then called Tuskegee Institute helped lead to the eradication of polio in the U.S. and most of the rest of the world. Polio is currently only found in two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This event, led by Rotary International’s clubs in District 6880 covering the southern half of Alabama, has involved years of planning to produce the Tuskegee Polio Recognition Project.

The monument consists of life-size bronze statues depicting Dr. John W. Chenault, nurse Warrena A. Turpin and a young polio patient named Gordon Stewart. These medical professionals represent the spirit of excellence that was prevalent at the Tuskegee Infantile Paralysis Center where Black doctors, researchers and support personnel conducted significant work that was critical to winning the war against polio.

Tuskegee has a rich legacy concerning polio. Basil O’Connor, Chairman of the Tuskegee Institute Board of Trustees was instrumental in creating the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which became the March of Dimes. In 1939, efforts by O’Connor led to the first and only grant for a new facility to treat Black children. Located at the John A. Andrew Memorial Hospital (1892-1987) on the campus of Tuskegee Institute, the Infantile Paralysis Center admitted its first patient in 1941 and was the only such center of its kind which provided care for Black children with polio until closing in 1975.

Rotary International has its own long history in fighting polio.┬áIn 1985, Rotary International and its partners made the commitment to eradicate polio from the face of the earth. In that year, on average more than 400,000 children were stricken with crippling effects from the poliomyelitis virus. From 125 countries in 1985 down to two countries in 2022 reporting active polio cases and the number at less than 20 cases, the world is “this close” to the full obliteration of this horrible disease.

With the end in sight, Rotary District 6880 feels the time is right to rediscover and honor the Tuskegee Infantile Paralysis Center for its important scientific and medical contributions.

Rotary District 6880, with the full support of the Tuskegee University administration, along with many other allies, has committed to recognize and exalt the Tuskegee Institute scientists, doctors and others by memorializing their work on the grounds of the original Tuskegee Infantile Paralysis Center, which formerly operated at Tuskegee Institute.

Funding for this project has come from many donors who wish to help Rotary 6880 honor those who were on the frontline in the fight against the dreaded polio disease while simultaneously crediting one of the few centers that treated the Black community at the time polio was raging. A donor granite marker, identifying the supporters of this project will be laid adjacent to the statue.


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