Henrietta Lacks’s statue defeats General Robert E. Lee 

Henrietta Lacks’ statue will replace that of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a slaveholder, in Roanoke, Virginia.

Robert E. Lee’s statue, situated in Lee Plaza, was erected in 1960. The plaza will now be renamed Lacks Plaza in honor of Henrietta Lacks who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at John Hopkins Hospital.  In July 2020, Lee’s statue was found knocked over and broken into pieces.

Lacks received treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and her tissues were also harvested there and replicated for research purposes. Johns Hopkins was the only hospital in the Baltimore area where African American patients could receive free care. 

The patients receiving free care from this segregated unit of the hospital often became research subjects without their knowledge or consent.

 That’s what happened to Lacks’ who produced HeLa cells, cells that were remarkably durable and prolific, and were used extensively in scientific study. The cell allowed scientists to cure polio and study gene mapping and COVID-19.

Lacks has changed modern medicine with HeLa cells which were named after her but which neither she nor her family knew about until much later.

Her family did not find out about the use of her cells until 1973 when scientists called them for blood samples so they could study their genes, according to “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” a best-selling book by Rebecca Skloot that was also turned into a movie with Oprah Winfrey portraying Lacks.

Lee was a slave owner, and his statue is being replaced by free a Black woman who may well have saved the lives of many worldwide.

In 1857, Lee assumed command of 189 enslaved people who were working the estates of Arlington, the White House, and Romancoke, Maryland.