Lacks’ legacy honored with street sign
Kamenetz declares Henrietta Lacks Day
County officials, area residents, members of the Lacks family and others gathered at the Fleming Center in Turner Station last Saturday to unveil a street sign dedicated to the memory of former resident Henrietta Lacks.
Born in Virginia in 1920, Lacks moved to Turner Station with her husband, who traveled to find work at the Bethlehem Steel mill. She would have five children, the youngest just four-and-a-half months old when she was
diagnosed with an aggressive form of cervical cancer. Treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital (the only hospital that would admit African-American patients), she died on Oct. 4, 1951, at the age of 31.
Unbeknownst to either Lacks or her family, doctors at Johns Hopkins took samples of cells from her cervix. These cells, later dubbed “HeLa” cells, would prove to be uniquely prolific, so prolific, in fact, that they were used to develop treatments and cures for some of humanities most serious diseases, including polio, cancer and AIDS. The cells continue to be used in medical research today.
Though her cells changed the course of medical history, Lacks’ family was unaware of their matriarch’s unwitting contribution until 20 years after her death. In the decades since their discovery, they have worked to spread Lacks’ story and garner for her the recognition she deserves.
Another step in that journey came last Saturday as Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and others dedicated a street sign in Turner Station to Lacks.
The ceremony was sponsored by the county, Henrietta Lacks House of Healing, the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group, the Turner Station Heritage Foundation, the Turner Station Conservation Teams, Johns Hopkins and the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.
Speakers included Dr. Eva McGhee, president of the Henrietta Lacks House of Healing, Dr. Adele Newson-Horst, vice president of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group and Gloria Nelson, president of the Turner Station Conservation Teams.
Also on hand was County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who presented a citation declaring every first Saturday in August as Henrietta Lacks Day in Baltimore County.
“This is really a great story about Turner Station, about a family and a community and a contribution to science and a deserved recognition,” Kamenetz told the Eagle. “This is an important part of Baltimore County’s history.”
Many members of the Lacks family were in attendance at last weekend’s event, including Lacks’ oldest son, Lawrence, and grandsons Lawrence Lacks Jr. and Alfred Lacks Carter, among others.
In brief remarks, Lawrence Lacks Sr. noted, “This is a nice day for a nice person.”
He thanked everyone in attendance for helping him “celebrate my mother’s legacy.”
In her remarks, Gloria Nelson referred to Turner Station as a “proud, historic community.”
“We’re a proud community, and this legacy continues to go on,” she said, adding, “Turner Station is on the map, folks!”
Courtney Speed, president of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group, recalled the day, 20 years ago, when Lacks’ daughter Deborah told her that she “wanted the world to know who her mother was.”
“I can’t imagine she could have foreseen this day,” Speed noted.
Following remarks, Kamenetz, Speed, members of the Lacks family and others gathered to unveil a ceremonial street sign, marked “Henrietta Lacks Place,” at Main Street and New Pittsburg Avenue in front of the Fleming Center.
After the unveiling, attendees were invited inside the Fleming Center for refreshments and a screening of HBO’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Visitors also got the chance to tour the former Lacks home at 713 New Pittsburg Avenue.
In addition to last weekend’s event, Lacks’ legacy will continue to be honored this Saturday, Aug. 5, at noon during the 20th annual Turner Station Heritage Foundation Praise Day Celebration at Union Baptist Church, 105 Main Street.
Following the ceremony, there will be an afternoon of activities, including food, informational vendors, dancers, pony rides, children’s activities, singers, music and more at the Community Post (formerly the VFW) at 411-A New Pittsburg Ave.
The festivities, held from 2 to 5 p.m., will also include book sales and signings by historians Louis Diggs and Jerome R. Watson, and a presentation on “Bethlehem Steel History” by former steelworkers Len Shindel and Phil Pack.
In addition, the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group will host its annual luncheon on Friday, Oct. 6, from noon to 3 p.m. at Mount Olive Baptist Church, 651 Mount Olive Road. For more information, visit henriettalackslegacygroup.com.
Dignitaries, including (clockwise from bottom left) Fleming Center director Cynthia Mingo, Lawrence Lacks Jr., Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group president Courtney Speed, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Lawrence Lacks Sr. and county outreach officer Bryan Sheppard, unveiled the sign for Henrietta Lacks Place last Saturday.
Under skies that threatened rain, a crowd gathered to honor the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.
A sign dedicated to Henrietta Lacks was unveiled at Main Street and New Pittsburg Avenue last Saturday.
Henrietta Lacks’ grandson Alfred Lacks Carter (left), Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group president Courtney Speed (center) and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (right) celebrated a proclamation declaring the first Saturday in August as Henrietta Lacks Day in Baltimore County.
Henrietta Lacks’ grandson, and Henrietta Lacks House of Healing founder, Alfred Lacks Carter (left), with House of Healing president Dr. Eva McGhee (right), presented Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (center) with a portrait of Henrietta Lacks.