Vertus Hardiman: Hole in the Head

I have danced around this story for almost 24 hours. I’m just not sure how to share it or tell it — or anything. I went to a great party last night, had Starbucks and read the New York Times this morning, and prayed for God’s forgiveness for missing church. Still, I can’t get this story, or its images, out of my head. When emailing it to some of my dearest friends, my note was short, “I had to get up and walk away from this story several times. Once again I find myself unnerved and nearly undone by the cruelty of humans toward one another, toward our race.”

I refer to the story of five little African American boys attending Lyles Consolidated School in 1928. Located in Lyles Station, Ind., — a town founded by freed slaves — the school was a place where the offspring of a proud first generation of freedmen excelled. Vertus Welborn Hardiman was one such child. Born March 9, 1922, Hardiman was one of those five boys. Each was used in an experiment to gauge the use of radiation on the human cranium. Young Vertus’ head was so severely damaged, that he would spend the remainder of his life wearing wigs and hats, bearing the taunts of children and adults alike. He would bear a hole in his head forevermore. Hence the name of the award-winning documentary “Hole In The Head: A Life Revealed” narrated by Dennis Haysbert.

A self-sufficient man, Hardiman moved to California in 1946. The following year began his 40-year career at County of Los Angeles General Hospital where he retired with distinction with a perfect attendance record. A sharing and kind soul, Hardiman was unabashed in his views that education was the great equalizer; he felt he would be remiss if, knowing our history, he didn’t urge all who crossed his path to aspire for knowledge. Adamant that he was “blessed.” he said the Lord told him early on that “… I had to provide for myself.”  So, this quiet man with a huge secret amassed a fortune in real estate and bequeathed it all to the United Negro College Fund and First AME Church of Pasadena. He passed away June 1, 2007.

Hardiman felt no ill will toward those who harmed him and his friends without regard for their life or existence. He was often known to say, “If I were angry, my prayers would not be answered and your heart’s not right if you’re angry.”

Until he agreed to share his story with the documentarians, only four people — other than medical personnel — ever knew of his secret. By the way, “vertus” is French for “virtues.”


  • Jessica Smith
    April 11, 2011

    Tough story…cultural insights that we must make ourselves aware of. Prime example why Blks distrust medical community and less likely to enroll in clinical trials.

  • John McNelis
    April 19, 2011


  • Irisirob70
    May 3, 2011

    You have to ask how many more stories like this have not been told? We as a people have endured terrible travesties but still we rise!

  • Johnny Hunter
    May 26, 2011

    In our world, forgiveness should be given only to the one that ask for it.  However, we should never forget.

  • Eriqah B
    August 26, 2011

    When he said he wasn’t angry cause “if you’re angry, your heart’s not right!” I almost cried!

  • Mdlittle2010
    August 31, 2011

    Sadly, I have strong reason to believe experiments on US citizens are still going on.  We need to start speaking up for these people and end horrors like this and MKUltra (Which may still be going on) for good.  Stop this corruption.

  • Robert Bois le Duc
    February 1, 2016

    Right wing, Corporate America has used us as medical experiments since the original settlers from Europe first gave diseased blankets to my Native American Ancestors in the 1600s.

  • TJ Gardner
    June 9, 2017

    My God….he has inspired me to not be upset but my God that was so, so cruel…Wow!!! Tuskegee experiement….this….what else…That’s crazy!!!!

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