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Roanoke unveils drawings of future Henrietta Lacks statue

Joe Staniunas
Artist Bryce Cobbs stands next to his life-size drawing of Henrietta Lacks.

The story of Henrietta Lacks became a best-selling book and a film. Now, the African American woman, whose cancer cells have been used in medical research for 70 years, will soon have a statue in her hometown. The design was unveiled Monday in downtown Roanoke.

Outside Roanoke City Hall, a life-size drawing of Henrietta Lacks was presented as her son, Lawrence, looked on in gratitude.

“I want to thank everyone for being out here for this amazing occasion,” he said.

The sketch will guide the sculptor making a bronze statue of the woman whose unique cells, preserved without her knowledge or consent, have helped develop cancer treatments and vaccines for polio, even COVID.

Ron & Lawrence.JPG
Joe Staniunas
Lawrence Lacks thanks the crowd at the unveiling of an artist's rendering of a statute to his mother. On his right is his son, Ron. At left is family attorney Ben Crump.

Her grandson, Ron, said the family appreciated the city’s effort to reach out to them.

“This is very exciting, and I will be looking forward to the unveiling and the finishing sculpture that will honor her forever in this beautiful city of Roanoke where my grandmother was born,” he said.

A committee that is working to bring Roanoke’s hidden past to life raised more than $183,000 for this memorial and for a companion project in which visitors to six different places will be able to call up a multimedia presentation about that site on a digital device.

The sculptor said he expects the statue will be ready to be installed in what’s now called Henrietta Lacks Plaza next October.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.