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Henrietta Lacks headstone planned / May 17, 2010
Descendants of Henrietta Lacks announced plans Sunday to dedicate a headstone at her unmarked grave in a ceremony slated to take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 29, at St. Matthews Baptist Church in Clover.

The “Memorial Dedication Service in honor of Henrietta Pleasant-Lacks” comes on the heels of publication of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” the best-selling book by Rebecca Skloot that recounts the life of the Clover woman whose cells were the first ever to be replicated outside the human body.

Henrietta Lacks’ cells, dubbed “HeLa,” unlocked numerous advances in modern medicine, but their existence remained a mystery to the Lacks’ family for many years. The book juxtaposes the importance of Henrietta Lacks’ contributions to science against the backdrop of her descendants’ struggles to come to terms with her legacy.

A major figure from the book, Dr. Ronald Pattillo of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, is helping to make the headstone dedications possible.

According to a e-mail message received yesterday from the Lacks family, headstones for Henrietta Lacks and her daughter Elsie will be dedicated at the service “thanks to the generosity” of Dr. Pattillo.

As recounted in the book, Pattillo first put Skloot in touch with the Lacks family. After several false starts, Skloot finally met and befriended Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s youngest daughter, who emerges as the book’s main character after Henrietta Lacks herself.

Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 of cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She lived most of her childhood and early adult life in Clover before moving to Baltimore in search of work.

Lucille Elsie Lacks was Henrietta’s eldest daughter and one of five children. Mentally disabled at birth, Elsie Lacks was committed to Crownsville State Hospital, then known as The Hospital for the Negro Insane of Maryland, shortly before Henrietta Lacks’ death in 1951.

A significant portion of the book is devoted to Deborah Lacks’ quest to learn the fate of her sister as well as her mother. Deborah Lacks died in May 2009, prior to publication of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”

Elsie Lacks’ remains are being relocated for burial next to her mother at the Lacks family gravesite in Clover, the Virginia-Pilot of Norfolk reported this week. The Pilot also reported that Skloot is purchasing a headstone for the late Deborah Lacks, who is buried in Baltimore. The author also has established a scholarship fund for Lacks descendants, using a share of the proceeds from sale of the book.

Via e-mail yesterday, the Lacks Family wrote the following about Henrietta Lacks:

“Few of you may know or remember that during her short life-time, Henrietta was more than just a young woman who worked the tobacco fields with her relatives: she was flesh and blood, a living breathing woman who had hopes and dreams of a better life for herself and family; she was an advocate for finding a cure for polio; she was a wife and a homemaker; a devoted mother, and a woman who also loved to dance! Unfortunately, her life was cut-short and in her passing, she made medical history! Henrietta’s contributions to the medical field will live on forever because she has crossed over into the world of immortality through cells she left behind that continue to enhance, improve and act as the catalyst for healing. Henrietta, unknowingly, has touched so many, many lives around the globe who are unaware of who she was and that she had a life: a family, a husband, children and friends who loved her, depended upon her smile, her caring touch, her cooking and cleaning house, brushing and braiding hair, washing and ironing clothes, her motherly hugs and kisses, as only a mother could do is what we have missed because she was taken from us to soon.

“2010 is the year when true recognition for Henrietta will happen globally because she has given so much to the world and undoubtedly, her historical medical contributions will live on infinitely and provide medical breakthroughs long past our lifetime. We are asking each of you to be her voice….continue to educate yourself, your families, your friends, the young and old of your community as to who and what “HeLa” significance is you, to the world and not just to the science and medical research field. We her family, as well as her world family, will forever be beholden’ to such an awesome legacy she has left behind!

“We truly appreciate each of you who have taken time to purchase and read ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot. Where you learnt some things about Henrietta the daughter, wife and mother who became the soul behind such a rich legacy….our beloved Henrietta Pleasant-Lacks.

“And, for those of you who have not read the book, please take the time to educate yourself about this beautiful black woman who has changed the world of science, medicine and the medical research field, forever while touching and healing individual lives world-wide!

“Please continue to keep our family in your prayers, as this journey for our mother/grandmother’s legacy continues to flourish. May God bless each of you!

“...Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support and love.

The Lacks Family

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Greeting to the Lacks Family,
I'm no medical student nor am I a doctor however, I am so thankful for Rebecca for taking the time to research the history of your mother/grandmother. Her hard work and dedicated attention to detail and the respect of your family- words can't express. I'm in a organization and there are several of us (women) reading this book. Sometimes my eyes get full of water and then there are moments when I just stop to picture the woman. I don't want to hold you all much longer but- please know you have given me a mother, wife, grandmother, friend and most of all Christian Woman to share with all those that I come into contact with. God Bless you all and please let Rebecca know- those of us in Texas would love for her to come this way....


To the Author and the Lacks Family; Life, every life has a purpose. We need not try to understand every life's fate but accept the course of which it impacts. I am moved by the fierce actions of the Author to pursue her path to write this book and for the late Deborah Lacks who followed her path to seek the knowledge of education; regardless even though she didn't complete it. She know the importance of education and left a clear path for her grandchildren to follow.
"Family read be not afraid to know...knowledge. My date of birth is the same as Ms Heniretta' August 1,...Wow I am honored.

Pat Winston

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