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Sun, 08.01.1920

Henrietta Lacks, Cancer Cell Donor born

Henrietta Lacks

*Henrietta Lacks was born on this date in 1920.  She was a Black housewife and mother.  She was also the involuntary donor of cells from her cancerous tumor, which was cultured to create an immortal cell line for medical research.

Born as Henrietta Pleasant in Roanoke, Virginia, she was one of ten children of Eliza and John Randall Pleasant.  Her mother died giving birth to her tenth child when Henrietta was four.  Sometime after this, John Pleasant, who worked as a brakeman on the railroad, took the children back to Lackstown, located in the city of Clover in Halifax County, Virginia, to be raised.  This was where Eliza’s relatives lived.

Henrietta married David Lacks in Halifax County, Virginia. Soon after, her husband moved north, found work at the Sparrow's Point shipyards, and found a house on New Pittsburgh Avenue in Turners Station; Henrietta and the children followed.  This community was one of the largest of the approximately fifty Black communities in Baltimore County, Maryland. The couple had five children. Her last child was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in November of 1950.

On February 1, 1951, Henrietta Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital because of a vaginal discharge. That day she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  She was treated but died on October 4, 1951, at age thirty-one. Her HeLa Cells were cultured while Lacks was receiving treatment for cervical cancer.  Her cancer metastasized abnormally rapidly, vastly faster than any other cancer the physicians had seen.  This is now known as the HeLa Cell line.

Lacks is buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery in Lackstown, Virginia. Lackstown is the land held by the Lacks family after receiving it from the family of whom they were slaves and descendants. "Lax" was at first the name of this family.  Later the Lax family changed their last name to "Lacks." Lack's mother has the only tombstone of the five graves in the family cemetery in Lackstown.




The Johns Hopkins Magazine, April 2000,
The Johns Hopkins University,
901 South Bond Street, Suite 540
Baltimore, Maryland 21231

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