Posted on December 26, 2022

A Statue of Henrietta Lacks Will Replace a Monument to Robert E. Lee

Derrick Bryson Taylor, New York Times, December 20, 2022

A life-size bronze statue of Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cancer cells were taken without her consent and were used for research that ushered medical discoveries and treatments, will be erected in her hometown, Roanoke, Va., next year in a plaza previously named after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Roanoke Hidden Histories, an organization dedicated to acknowledging Black history in the community’s public spaces, raised more than $183,000 for the project.


The finished statue will stand downtown in Henrietta Lacks Plaza, where a Robert E. Lee monument once stood. That monument, erected in 1960, was scheduled to be removed after it was found damaged in July 2020. Plans to rename the plaza took shape after the monument was hauled away that summer. At least 230 Confederate symbols across the United States have been removed, relocated or renamed since the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.


Ms. Lacks, who was born in Roanoke and later moved to Baltimore with her husband during the 1940s, died from cervical cancer at 31 in 1951. She left behind five young children and an unrivaled medical legacy.

Just months before her death and without her knowledge, consent or compensation, doctors removed a sample of cells from a tumor in her cervix. The cells taken from Ms. Lacks behaved differently than other cancer cells, doubling in number within 24 hours and continuing to replicate.

The cell sample went to a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who was trying to find cells that would survive indefinitely so researchers could experiment on them. The cells derived from that sample have since reproduced and multiplied billions of times, contributing to nearly 75,000 studies.