ROANOKE, Va. – People in Roanoke are working to remember a local native, Henrietta Lacks.
Her “HeLa” cells are known for leading medical breakthroughs in vaccinations after her cells were used by scientists, without her or her family’s knowledge or consent, when she died from cervical cancer at 31 years old.
Members from Roanoke Hidden Histories Project, Hidden in Plain Site, and other City Officials want to make sure the community remembers Lack’s history and legacy.
On Monday, they unveiled the plans for a new Henrietta Lacks Statue in Lacks Plaza.
“Today, here in Roanoke Virginia at Lacks Plaza, we acknowledge that she was not only significant, she was literate and she is as relevant as any historic figure in the world today,” said Ben Crump, the Lacks family attorney.
Once the plans for the statue were unveiled, the crowd erupted with applause.
“This beautiful woman was born August 1, 1920, right here in Roanoke, Virginia. And we want to honor her and celebrate her,” said Trish White-Boyd, vice mayor.
Artist Bryce Cobbs drew the plans for what the statue will look like. Sculptor Larry Bechtel will create the 6′ foot bronze statue of Ms. Lacks based on Cobbs’ drawing.
Lacks’ family members, including her oldest son, Lawrence, and her grandson, Ron, were in attendance on Monday.
“It is a real honor to be here in Roanoke to humanize my grandmother. For so long they called her ‘Hela Cells’. Her name is Henrietta Lacks,” said Ron Lacks, Henrietta’s grandson.
Ron said for so long his family has been quieted, but now their story is breaking through.
“It took three generations and I was finally able to get through and it was a slow agonizing process because nobody really wanted to hear the family’s side of the story,” said Ron.
Ron said this project in Lacks Plaza is the first to reach out to the family first for approval.
“For Roanoke to go through the estate was a big honor in recognizing the family because a lot of entities haven’t,” Ron said.
The statue of Lacks is set to be completed by the end of 2023.
Hidden In Plain Site and Roanoke Hidden Histories is also working on creating a virtual reality documentary that will acknowledge African American History in community spaces.