Statue of Henrietta Lacks to replace Robert E. Lee monument in Roanoke, Virginia

The Roanoke native died of cancer in 1951, but her cells lived on and helped lead to groundbreaking medical treatments.

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A statue of Henrietta Lacks will replace a monument of confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Roanoke, Virginia, ABC News reports. 

Lacks was born in Roanoke and died of cancer in 1951 at age 31. Her cells, known as HeLa cells, lived on and helped lead to a multitude of groundbreaking medical treatments, theGrio has reported.

According to ABC News, Lacks’ hometown will immortalize her in a life-sized bronze statue, which will be erected next year in downtown Roanoke’s Henrietta Lacks Plaza. Artist Bryce Cobbs unveiled a preliminary drawing of the monument during Monday’s announcement of the project. Several members of the Lacks family attended the ceremony, including a grandson, Ron Lacks.

A statue of Henrietta Lacks will replace a monument of confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Roanoke, Virginia. (Photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

“This is an honor and a privilege to be here in Roanoke with my father, Lawrence Lacks, Henrietta’s oldest and only living child,” he said. “This historical moment, occasion, has been a long time coming.”

Cobbs gushed about his involvement in the project, saying he is “humbled to be a part of history in this way and just to be trusted with the task of making sure that I just captured Mrs. Henrietta Lacks the best way I could.”

Sculptor Larry Bechtel will design the Lacks statue. The figure is to be located in an area previously named Lee Plaza after the confederate leader and Virginia native. The Lee statue was ripped down in 2020 amid racial protests following the police killing of George Floyd.

According to ABC News, Roanoke Hidden Histories, an initiative of the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, commissioned the Lacks project as part of an effort with Roanoke Vice-Mayor Trish White-Boyd to “surface the hidden histories of the African American experience in Roanoke.” 

Attorney Ben Crump joined the family at Monday’s ceremony, as he is representing family members in a lawsuit against biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific. The company has allegedly amassed great profits from the use of Lacks’ cells without permission from the family.

“I just think it’s so fitting in the state of Virginia … where in the past we commemorated a lot of men with statues that divided us. Now here in Roanoke, Virginia, we will have a statue of a Black woman who brings us all together,” said Crump.

As theGrio has reported, Lacks’ HeLa cells were unusual because they were the first found to grow outside of the body and not die within days. In fact, they were able to reproduce an entire generation every 24 hours. 

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