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Education, English

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was born in 1920, and her mother died in 1924 before she joined the school. Her grandfather lived in an old slave shack on a tobacco plantation, which she called a home house with her cousin, and she grew up in an extremely poor background. When she went to the market, she would find white farmers sleeping in private rooms while the black farmers stayed in the basement of the warehouse.

Henrietta would not go to school like the white kids her age, but instead, she would join her cousins to pull out weeds from tobacco farms owned by whites. Rather than go to school, she would go to see their favourite movies at the local theatre. She got pregnant at age fourteen from her relationship with her cousin Day Lacks and gave birth to Lawrence, shattering any dreams of an education (Skloot, 2017).

When Henrietta discovers that she is sick, she goes to Johns Hopkins Hospital and with good reason. Howard Jones was her physician whose boss, Richard, claimed the health facility was perfect for research since many coloured and poor black women who could not afford paid treatment went there (Skloots,2017). This fact tells us that due to her poor background, she could not afford a decent hospital, just as was the case for many black people. On the other hand, white people would receive Medicare at better hospitals. Elsie, one of her children, was an epileptic, and once she got mentally challenged. When Henrietta got too sick, Elsie was committed to the Crownsville Hospital for the Negro Insane. This shows how racism was deeply rooted in the society.

Medical researchers during the time of Henrietta’s treatment emphasized racism in a big way. Other than Dr Richard and George Gay in their use of black patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital for research as a way to pay back for the free treatment, Dr Chester was a complete racist. Dr. Chester injected the Nile virus into black cancer patients to see what would happen. He even experimented by using black prisoners from Ohio prisons as guinea pigs by injecting them with cancer cells. This showed deeply entrenched racism where black patients were not treated as human beings, unlike white patients, who were treated with respect and dignity. The author even talks about black people being abducted at night by the so-called ‘night doctors’ to be used for cancer research as guinea pigs (Skloot, 2017).


Skloot, R. (2017). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Books, 25



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