Roanoke, Virginia will soon honor the legacy of Henrietta Lacks with a bronze statue. Lacks, whose “immortal” cells have resulted in countless medical breakthroughs, is a native of the southwestern Virginia city.

The artist, Bryce Cobbs, unveiled a life-sized preliminary drawing of Lacks in a ceremony announcing the statue on Monday.

“The fact that I’m involved in this project means the world,” Cobbs said at a press conference. “I’m 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 said he will reference the drawing in his design. The statue will eventually be unveiled in October 2023. 

Roanoke Hidden Histories, an initiative of the Harrison Museum of African American Culture, and Roanoke Vice-Mayor Trish White-Boyd are working to “surface the hidden histories of the African American experience in Roanoke.” The commissioned project recently surpassed its $160,000 goal.

Artist Bryce Cobbs with a preliminary drawing of Henrietta Lacks statue. | Photo Credit: City of Roanoke, Virginia Facebook

Roanoke Honors Lacks’ Legacy

The statue will stand in downtown Roanoke’s Henrietta Lacks Plaza, previously named Lee Plaza after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

According to ABC News, the statue of Lee was removed from the site after being toppled in 2020 in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s murder.

Lacks’ grandson, Ron Lacks, was also in attendance and expressed excitement about the project.

“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 at the ceremony on Monday. “This historical moment, occasion, has been a long time coming.”

The family was also joined by attorney Ben Crump during the conference. Crump said the statue will serve as a reminder that Henrietta Lacks lives on through her legacy and great, though unwitting, contribution to science and medicine.

“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,” he said.

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