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Petition drive for Henrietta Lacks statue nets 2,000 signatures

South Boston News
Barbara Coleman-Brown and Detra Carr of thte Halifax County-South Boston NAACP / July 08, 2021
Advocates of erecting of statue of Henrietta Lacks at the courthouse square presented the Halifax County Board of Supervisors with a petition in support of the idea signed by more than 2,000 people, speakers at Tuesday night’s meeting said.

Barbara Coleman-Brown and Detra Carr, president and vice president of the Halifax County-South Boston NAACP Chapter, addressed supervisors on the proposed statue, which supporters hope to finance through private means. In June, Coleman-Brown and Hope Harris Gayles, president of One Community, asked board members to explore the feasibility of a Henrietta Lacks statue at the courthouse.

“I am here with great news,” said Coleman-Brown Tuesday, saying that “in 14 days we were able to garner more than 2,300 signatures of citizens who are in support of the Henrietta Lacks initiative.” The hope of statue supporters is that the idea would garner widespread support in Halifax County, Lacks’ home for most of her childhood and early adult years, and Coleman-Brown said the success of the petition bears out that wish.

“I am here to put the wheels in motion,” she told board members.

In June, following the presentation by the NAACP and One Community presidents, supervisors agreed to form an ad hoc committee to work with statue backers. The committee was suggested by ED-8 supervisor William Bryant Claiborne and drew immediate support from ED-2 supervisor Jeff Francisco. Chairman Hubert Pannell said he would heed their advice and appoint a board committee.

Tuesday night, Pannell said he has named Claiborne and ED-1 supervisor Ricky Short to work with Coleman-Brown and Harris-Gayles on the idea.

If a statue is commissioned, it would become the second memorial to stand at the courthouse, alongside Halifax County’s Confederate soldier statue. That was the subject of a 2020 referendum in which county residents were asked to approve the removal of the statute from the courthouse grounds. Voters rejected the referendum by a 60-40 margin, even as other localities have taken down and relocated their Confederate memorials in public spaces.

Coleman-Brown said statue supporters believe a tribute to Henrietta Lacks will be a unifying force and cast Halifax County in a positive light. The story of Henrietta Lacks has attracted worldwide attention following publication of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a 2010 best seller by Rebecca Skloot that chronicled Lacks’ life and death from cancer in 1951 and the rise of “HeLa” cells, cultivated by doctors after her death.

The self-replicating cell line has been instrumental in scientific and medical advances that include the polio vaccine and treatments for diseases such as cancer.

Coleman-Brown and Carr spoke during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, which drew a number of other speakers. One was Thomas Majors, who regularly attends the monthly meetings of the Board of Supervisors.

Majors sharply criticized board members who voted in June to abstain on two matters — a permit request by Thomas “Andy” Hughes to establish an ATV trails park in the Liberty area, and a separate vote on whether to lend $550,000 to the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority. The IDA sought a county loan to pay for a building upfit at the vacant Daystrom plant, which the IDA has repurposed as an industrial shell building.

Majors said that by abstaining on key votes, supervisors “duck and dodge” on matters of public importance. He called the abstaining supervisors “Uncle Toms,” a racially-fraught term that refers to the subservient enslaved figure in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the Civil War-era novel by abolitionist writer Harriett Beecher Stowe.

It was not clear if Majors, who is Black, was directing his remarks at any particular member of the board. Three supervisors abstained on votes at the June meeting.

Ronnie Duffey and Stanley Brandon, representing ED-4 and ED-6, abstained on the vote to deny a permit for the Liberty ATV park, which passed 5-1 with their two abstaining votes. Hubert Pannell abstained on the vote to lend county funds to the IDA, which passed 6-1.

Brandon and Pannell are both Black, while Duffey is White.

Majors expressed frustration with county officials who he said are now backtracking on a commitment to modernize the high school, the subject of a successful 2019 voter referendum to enact a 1-cent sales tax to finance the work.

“Now they are ducking and dodging on a new school, they said we going to get a new school, now they ducking and dodging … and trying to do something else with our money,” he said.

“I know politicians lie and they duck and dodge,” Majors continued, adding that he equates abstentions with a “no” vote.

Also speaking Tuesday night was Dryburg resident James C. Dixon, who asked supervisors to do something about the debris and trash that surrounds the green dumpster boxes near his home.

“I’d like to suggest one of those orange fences to be placed around the trash boxes. It would eliminate a whole lot of that trash from blowing away and eliminate me picking it up in my field and all around Dryburg Road,” said Dixon.

“When I see Mr. Dixon come up to talk about the green box in Dryburg, I cringe. It is unsightly and we do need to do some work there,” replied Francisco.

Francisco said discussions are underway to put a waste collection center in the Town of Scottsburg and once that happens the boxes at Dryburg will probably be removed.

The new site “will be maintained and will be nice and not have those issues on Dryburg Road,” said Francisco, who added that “while I’m sure they probably like having those boxes convenient for them,” a Scottsburg convenience would be an upgrade.

“The new site is probably why there has not been any work done to upkeep the location in Dryburg,” he said.

Dixon also asked why there was not at “free house” at the Dryburg Road convenience center, at which residents could discard items that others would be free to take as their own.

“There is a free box in [Stanley] Brandon’s district and it is a problem,” said County Administrator Scott Simpson. “It all really goes to the citizens who utilize those conveniences. If people are going to throw their trash in the woods and not into the green box, there is not much we can do.”

Simpson said he would find out how many county centers have a shed for dropping off items that can be freely exchanged and are not trash. It is potentially possible to add a “free house” in Dryburg, he said.

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This is great! She will finally get the recognition she diserves!


Some jerk stole my screen name. This is a waste of money. Lady didn't even know she had the gene. Put statues up for people that actually do something. Like to meet the troll that stole my screen name.


Nonsense I'm the real allpolitical2. You a phony


realallpolitical2, why not just use your real name then?

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