Roanoke City leaders reveal plans for Henrietta Lacks statue to honor her legacy

Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 5:27 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke City officials revealed plans Monday for a statue to honor the legacy of Henrietta Lacks. The statue will go in Lacks Plaza between the municipal building and the court house.

The city plans to have the statue completed by October 2023.

Henrietta Lacks passed away in 1951 from cervical cancer, but her legacy continues to live on throughout the world. Lacks’ immortal HeLa cells have helped make countless medical discoveries.

“If you are living today, not just in Virginia, not just in America, but in the world, than we all have a little Henrietta in us,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump said at Monday’s event.

Lack was born in Roanoke in 1920. The city’s vice mayor explained her history is important to remember and be proud of.

“This story is just amazing and to think it all started right here in Roanoke, Virginia,” Trish White-Boyd said. “I’m really happy that finally we are able to honor and recognize her.”

Roanoke artist Bryce Cobbs revealed his preliminary drawing for sculptor Larry Bechtel to design a bronze statue of Lacks.

The statue is part of an ongoing project with Roanoke Hidden Histories to educate others about African-American history in Roanoke’s community. The co-founder of the project, titled Hidden in Plain Site, explained how Lacks continues to impact our communities.

“Education in general is extremely important and this platform that we provide allows that, and her history across our world is impactful,” Dontrese Brown said. “It’s important that folks understand the legacy that she’s still leaving here for us and how all of us are connected through her.”

It’s a legacy that not only lives on through the Roanoke community, but through Lacks’ son and grandson. Both were in attendance at Monday’s event.

“I think the world is seeing her more as a human being, a wife, a mother,” grandson Ron Lacks said. “It’s great now that we are reaching out and acknowledging her as a human, not just a cell.”

Roanoke Hidden Histories raised more than $160,000 to start on the building plans for the Henrietta Lacks statue.