DECEMBER 13, 2022 - ROANOKE, Va. - Media representatives are invited to a special press event to be held in Lacks Plaza (across from the City Municipal Bldg.) on Monday, December 19, at 11:15 a.m. The event will launch the next phase of the Roanoke Hidden Histories project.

Roanoke Hidden Histories has met and exceeded their fundraising goal of $160,000, allowing production of Henrietta Lacks statue to proceed. Hidden in Plain Site (HIPS) representatives will also be on-site with an exciting announcement about progress on the project’s nearly-complete virtual reality documentary. Roanoke artist Bryce Cobbs will unveil a life-sized version of his preliminary drawing of Lacks. The drawing will be used as a reference by Blacksburg-based sculptor Larry Bechtel to design a bronze sculpture. 

Artist Bryce Cobbs says, “Working on this project was a huge honor for me. I’m grateful for the Lacks family for entrusting not only me, but all the individuals involved in this project with the task of honoring the legacy of Henrietta Lacks. Their bravery, strength and willingness to give knowledge is so commendable and was a major inspiration for me along this journey.” 

Roanoke Hidden Histories is a volunteer-led effort, partnered with the Harrison Museum of African American Culture as its fiscal agent, with the primary goal of acknowledging African American history in the community’s public spaces.  The project will focus on acknowledging and documenting painful and troubling aspects of our shared history as well as celebrating Black achievement in the community. A goal of the effort is to bring overlooked history to life.

The project consists of two main components: development of a virtual education tool that emphasizes “hidden history” at five community locations and the creation of a sculpture of Henrietta Lacks at the City’s Lacks Plaza.

“The two projects go hand in hand,” says project lead Trish White-Boyd. “We’ll create a virtual system to inventory sites and communicate history in an engaging way using technology. Then, natural next steps may use that interest and knowledge to develop physical representations on the sites, so that we can all stumble across the layers of history in our daily paths.”

The first physical project, a sculpture of Henrietta Lacks, honors the Roanoke native who unknowingly provided the world with the HeLa cell, fueling decades of life-saving and life changing research. The virtual reality component of the project will be used as an educational tool and is being developed through a partnership with Richmond’s Hidden in Plain Site (HIPS).

Roanoke is honored to have the blessing of Henrietta Lacks’ family for this project. Her eldest son, Lawrence Lacks, as well as her grandson, Ron Lacks (and Ron’s wife, Hope Lacks), will also be present at Monday’s media event. “Roanoke is the first to reach out to Henrietta Lacks’ estate. This a big deal,” states Ron Lacks, son of Lawrence Lacks.

Nationally-recognized civil rights attorney Ben Crump will also be in attendance with the Lacks family.

Preliminary statue drawing below (provided by Bryce Cobbs)

Henrietta Lacks - Sketch

Photos from the Event

Lawrence Lacks - Son of Henrietta Lacks

Ron Lacks - Grandson of Henrietta Lacks

Attorney Ben Crump - Lacks Plaza - Roanoke, VA

Bryce Cobbs & Larry Bechtel - Henrietta Lacks Sculpture

About Hidden in Plain Site

Hidden in Plain Site is a virtual reality (VR) exploration of distinct, but easy to overlook sites that tell the story of the Black experience throughout history. Featuring actual examples from various angles and ages, these sites will be brought to life through current appearance augmented with historical imagery. The goal is to inform and educate while changing how residents and visitors see and experience their city.

Trish White Boyd