Society and Racism

Chapters that fit here are as follows: 21, 28, 29, 31, 33, 35, 36, 37, & 38, and some of the afterword

Chapter 21: Night Doctors…2000 (Some of this focuses on family and community but it also explores the days of slavery [pp.166-168], and Jim Crow Baltimore, including segregated medical practices and policies at Johns Hopkins University in the 1940s & 1950s), pp.158-169.


Chapter 28: After London …1996-1999 ( discusses the BBC’s early documentary on Henrietta Lacks, HeLa cells, interviews with Deborah and other Lacks members in front of the home-house in Clover, and moving to Turner Station in Baltimore in the 1940s and the con artist, Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield), pp.218-231.

Cofield’s long legal history

Chapter 29: A Village of Henriettas…2000 (deals with Deborah, Henrietta’s eldest daughter; it also focuses on science/cloning/bad science), pp.232-240.

Chapter 31: Hela, Goddess of Death…2000-2001 (comics) Society (see chs.33, 36), family, society, and racism in Baltimore (great quote of Deborah’s about racism and stealing cells, p.250: “Everybody always yellin, “Racism! Racism! That white man stole that black woman’s cells! That white man killed that black woman!” That’s crazy talk…We all black and white and everything else—this isn’t a race thing. There’s two sides to the story, and that’s what we want to bring out. Nothing about my mother is truth if it’s about wantin to fry the researchers. It’s not about punish the doctors or slander the hospital. I don’t want that.”, finding someone to trust and keeping promises, see quote by Deborah that says “I want a book written about my mother…Truth be told, I can’t get mad at science, because it help people live, and I’d be a mess without it. I’m a walking drugstore! I can’t say nuthin bad about science, but I won’t lie, I would like some health insurance so I don’t got to pay all that money every month for drugs my mother cells probably helped make.” (p.256) And “I still want to go see them cells…she said sobbing. “I ain’t gonna let this stop me from learning about my mother and my sister.” (p.258), pp.250-258.

Chapter 33: The Hospital for the Negro Insane…2001 (traces the history of Crownsville from the 1910s to its demise, Elsie’s photo, painful revelations about her sister’s treatment at Crownsville, and about syphilis in family, including Elsie’s autopsy reports stating that she had become an idiot—“diagnosis of idiocy”…”directly connected with syphilis”…”self-induced vomiting clotting her blood p.273, overcrowded hospital “loses” curable patients, learning about Elsie’s death in 1955, gruesome information, “fearsome black wards” understaffed medical experts and doctors, use great quote on bad conditions (p.275), scientific research and experimentation on patients (pp.275-276, Deborah’s success in digging up records at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis, and giving the records to Skloot), 268-278.

On Crownsville’s history, p.365

Closing of this center

See Robert Redding Jr., “Historic Mental Hospital Closes,” Washington Times (June 28, 2004), available at


Chapter 35: Soul Cleansing…2001 (looks at Deborah and Rebecca relationship and friendship, religious spiritualism, black culture in Clover, making history, interpreting life and death), pp.286-296. See important quote of Gary’s on pp.292-293: “Thank you Lord for giving me this information about my mother and my sister, but please HELP ME, cause I know I can’t handle this burden by myself. Take them CELLS from me, Lord, take that BURDEN…You can HAVE IT! Hallelujah, amen.” (p.292) And on p.293:””She can’t handle the burden of these cells no more, Lord! She can’t do it!” But “LORD, I KNOW you sent Miss Rebecca to help LIFT THE BURDEN of them CELLS!” GIVE THEM TO HER!” HE YELLED. LET HER CARRY THEM.” P.293 Rebecca sat frozen, staring at Gary, thinking, Wait a minute, that wasn’t supposed to happen! P.293), pp.286-293.

Chapter 36: Heavenly Bodies…2001 (Rebecca in Clover; examines importance of prayer and belief), pp.294-296. “HeLa?” I asked Gary. “You’re saying HeLa is her spiritual body?”

Rebecca’s statement: “In that moment, reading those passages, I understood completely how some of the Lackses could believe, without doubt, that Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. If you believe the Bible is the literal truth, the immortality of Henrietta’s cells makes perfect sense. Of course they were growing and surviving decades after her death, of course they floated through air, and of course they’d led to cures for diseases and been launched into space. Angels are like that. The Bible tells us so.”p.296

And a further bit down the page she continues: “The idea that God chose Henrietta as an angel who would be reborn as immortal cells made a lot moe sense to them than the explanation Deborah had read years earlier in Victor McKusick’s genetics book, with its clinical talk of HeLa’s “atypical histology” and “unusually malignant behavior.” P.296), pp.294-296.

Chapter 36: Heavenly Bodies/deals with preacher Gary Lacks

Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield—attempted to sue John Hopkins and the Lacks family.

On Crownsville’s history, p.365

Closing of this center

See Robert Redding Jr., “Historic Mental Hospital Closes,” Washington Times (June 28, 2004), available at

Chapter 36: Heavenly Bodies/deals with preacher Gary Lacks

Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield—attempted to sue John Hopkins and the Lacks family.


Chapter 37: “Nothing to Be Sacred About”…2001 (focuses mainly on stressful relations between Rebecca and Deborah, along with Deborah’s multiple health problems, including possible strokes, coping with disasters like 9/11 and coming to terms with mother’s and sister’s deaths), pp.297-304. Quote (Deborah to Rebecca): “It’s too late for Henrietta’s children…This story ain’t about us anymore. It’s about the new Lacks children” (p.302). Gary Pullman quote: “This child will someday know that her great-grandmother Henrietta helped the world! Pullman yelled and then pointed at grandchildren Davon and JaBrea’s other cousins, saying “So will that child…and that child…and that child. This is their story now. They need to take hold of it and let it teach them they can change the world too” (p.304).

Chapter 38: The Long Road to Clover…2009 (“Clover was gone.” Rebecca reminisces about the disappearance of Clover as a place and a memory of the past, of what remains of the town of Henrietta’s youth), pp.305-310.  This Chapter also deals with a dying town (Clover was gone when Rebecca Skloot went there with Deborah, p.305; talks about where Henrietta grew up/very key chapter on family and community)

On cell research and experimentation, see Leonard Hayflick and Moorehead, “The Serial Cultivation of Human Diploid Cell Strains,” Experimental Cell Research 25 (1961).

Update since 2009 (2010-2011)

Where They Are Now

See Robert Redding Jr., “Historic Mental Hospital Closes,” Washington Times (June 28, 2004), available at

On the history of Virginia tobacco production, see the Virginia Historical Society, the Halifax County website and sources at the South Boston Library; also see Tara Parker Pope, Cigarettes: Anatomy of an Industry, from Seed to Smoke (an overview of tobacco history for the general public)

For an in-depth examination of where Henrietta grew up in Clover, Virginia, see the following sources: Henry Preston Young, Jr., Country Folk: The Way We Were Back Then in Halifax County, Virginia; Pocahontas Wight Edmunds, History of Halifax; Jerome Watson, Turner Station; Karen Olson, Wives of Steel; Mark Reutter, Making Steel. The history of Turner Station can also be found in news articles and documents at the Dundalk Patapsco Neck Historical Society and the North Point Library in Dundalk, Maryland.

On Turner Station, see the newspaper article that documented Henrietta Lacks’ address: Jacques Kelly, “Her Cells Made Her Immortal,” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1997. Also see Michael Rogers, “The Double-Edged Helix,” Rolling Stone (March 25, 1976)

For reports of the decline of Clover, see the following sources: see an Economic Study by Virginia Electric and Power Company, “South Boston, Halifax County, Virginia”; “Town Begins to Move Ahead,” Gazette-Virginian (May 23, 1974); “Town Wants to Disappear,” Washington Times (May 15, 1988); and “Supes Decision Could End Clover’s Township,” Gazette-Virginian (May 18, 1998); “Historical Monograph: Black Walnut Plantation Rural Historic District, Halifax County, Virginia,” Old Dominion Electric Co-operative (April 1996). Population figures are available at

On segregation at Johns Hopkins, see Louise Cavagnaro, “The Way We Were,” Dome 55, no.7 (September 2004), available at; Louise Cavagnaro, “A History of Segregation and Desegregation at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions,” unpublished manuscript (1989) at the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives (AMCMA); and “The Racial Record of Johns Hopkins University,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 25 (Autumn 1999).

For the effects of segregation on health-care delivery and outcomes, see the following sources: C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow; P. Preston Reynolds and Raymond Bernard, “Consequences of Racial Segregation,” American Catholic Sociological Review 10, no.2 (June 1949); Albert W. Dent, “Hospital Services and Facilities Available to Negroes in the United States,” Journal of Negro Education 18, no.3 (Summer 1949); Alfred Yankauer Jr., “The Relationship of Fetal and Infant Mortality to Residential Segregation: An Inquiry into Social Epidemiology,” American Sociological Review 15, no.5 (October 1950); and Alfred Yankauer Jr., “Hospitals and Civil Rights, 1945-1963:The Case of Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital,” Annals of Internal Medicine 126, no.11 (June 1, 1997).

On night doctors and the history of black Americans and medical research, consult the following works: Gladys-Marie Fry, Night Riders in Black Folk History; T. L. Savitt, “The Use of Blacks for Medical Experimentation and Demonstration in the Old South,” Journal of Southern History 48, no.3 (August 1982); T. L. Savitt, Medicine and Slavery: The Disease and Health Care of Blacks in Antebellum Virginia; F. C. Waite, “Grave Robbing in New England,” Medical Library Association Bulletin (1945); W. M. Cobb, “Surgery and the Negro Physician: Some Parallels in Background,” Journal of the National Medical Association (May 1951); V. N. Gamble, “A Legacy of Distrust: African Americans and Medical Research,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 9 (1993); V. N. Gamble, “Under the Shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and Health Care,” American Journal of Public Health 87, no.11 (November 1997).

On medical apartheid, the best account is in Harriet Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.

Case studies covering ACLU lawsuit against Johns Hopkins’s research into a genetic predisposition to criminal activity, see Jay Katz, Experimenatation with Human Beings, chapter titled “Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine: A Chronicle. Story of Criminal Gene Research.” For more information on this topic, see Harriet Washington, “Born for Evil?” in Roelcke and Maio, Twentieth Century Ethics of Human Subjects Research (2004).

On the Hopkins lead-study story and the case itself, see Erika Grimes v. Kennedy Kreiger Institute, Inc., (24-C-99-925 and 24-C-95-66067/CL 193461). But also consult the following sources: L. M. Kopelman and J. Pollak, “The Lead-Based Paint Abatement Repair & Maintenance Study in Baltimore: Historic Framework and Study Design,” Journal of Health Care Law and Policy (2002).

For a new parallel pattern of abuse of the poor outside America, see Viji Sundaram, “US Pharmaceutical Companies Testing Drugs on India’s Poor,” New America Media Report, published on Truthout, 8/7/2011 (