April 13, 1953 – Remembering Ebb Cade – African American Victim of U.S. Government Plutonium Experiments

April 13, 1953 is the day that Ebb Cade died. He was a 53-year-old African-American who, during World War II, worked as a cement mixer at the secret weapons production plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.


On March 24, 1945, Mr. Cade got into an automobile accident on his way to work. He had received a few fractures but was otherwise well. Not for long, however. During the next several weeks he was kept at the hospital and injected – unknowingly – with 4.7 micrograms of plutonium, the highly lethal agent being purified to make atomic bombs. He turned out to be the first of eighteen people thus injected in federally sponsored medical experiments to test the toxicity of this radioactive chemical element.

The Government was well aware that plutonium was dangerous, as you can see from the many pictures of testing that took place to monitor the exposure of (white) workers at Oak Ridge (pictures which are, however, no longer easy to locate by searching the U.S. DOE site).

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory employee having a blood test to detect radiation exposure circa 1950

An Oak Ridge National Laboratory employee having a blood test to detect radiation exposure circa 1950

Here is the explanation of how Mr. Cade came to be injected from an in-depth study conducted by the 1994 Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) appointed by President Clinton:

Dr. Joseph Howland, an Army doctor stationed at Oak Ridge, told AEC investigators in 1974 that he had administered the injection. There was, he recalled, no consent from the patient. He acted, he testified, only after his objections were met with a written order to proceed from his superior, Dr. Friedell. Dr. Friedell told Advisory Committee staff in an interview that he did not order the injection and that it was written by a physician named Dwight Clark, not Dr. Howland. The Committee has not been able to resolve this contradiction.”

1943 Dept. of Energy archives/Ed Westcott photo of one of the "security" billboards  in Oak Ridge.

1943 Dept. of Energy archives/Ed Westcott photo of one of the “security” billboards in Oak Ridge.

In the time subsequent to Mr. Cade’s injections, measurements were taken of his blood after four hours, his bone tissue after ninety-six hours, and his bodily excretions for forty to sixty days thereafter. His broken bones were not set until twenty days after the crash, and not until samples were taken from the bones for biopsy. In addition, fifteen of his teeth were extracted and sent to New Mexico for analysis.

After Mr. Cade left the hospital (it is thought he departed suddenly on his own initiative), he did not receive any further government medical care (for good or evil) and it is unknown how or if he suffered thereafter in the eight years he survived. Later it was learned that he moved out of state and died of heart failure on April 13, 1953, in Greensboro, North Carolina.

There are a number of sources of information on the web about this experimentation, such as this Congressional report (which includes many references and a “Citizens Guide” to finding more information; a report on “The Human Plutonium Injection Experiments” from the periodical “Los Alamos Science” Number 23, 1995; a report printed in 10 Medicine & Global Survival, 1994; Vol. 1, No. 1 on “U.S. Government-Sponsored Radiation Research on Humans 1945-1975,” and also a number of books about the medical experiments performed. You can also get a broader picture of the treatment of blacks in general (inter alia) at the Oak Ridge installation of the Manhattan Project from the very interesting book The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan (see our review, here).


5 Responses

  1. Was Ebb Cade black?
    By the way, ALL the links appear to have been hijacked or otherwise effaced, so that they NO LONGER lead to the material that they must originally have led to. If it would be possible to fetch up the original material somewhere (Wayback Machine?), host it securely, and place it under the hyperlinks in this article, it would help a great deal.

    • Thanks for letting us know about the links. Wow. How discouraging! We updated the post, but were only able to find one link that had been there before.

    • Yes, he was African American. He was my relative.

      • So sorry that this happened to your relative. Illegal and immoral. Sheer wickedness in the name of science knowing full well that none would knowingly agree to be injected with poison.

  2. OK – African American – above the picture. I got it.

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