Judy Moore: Historical markers tell Lacks, Holmes stories

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, July 7, 2022

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You can go along some roads and streets in Virginia and see historical markers that give a glimpse of an event that turned the tide in our country’s freedom or tell a brief summary about an individual whose contributions affected the local communities or world at large.

Jennifer Loux with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is the person to talk to if one desires to have a historic marker displayed and research would be conducted to determine if a proposed nomination fits the organization’s criteria. I would like to highlight two historical markers that grace our state — Henrietta Lacks and Joseph R. Holmes.

The Henrietta Lacks historical marker is located off of Hwy. 360 near Clover and commemorates the life of Lacks, who was born in Roanoke but grew up in Clover. As an adult she battled ovarian cancer and received treatment from doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital. They used her cancer cells without her knowledge calling them HeLa cells to make medicines to cure diseases such as polio. Her family members did not know that this was done to her. Many people would not have known about Lacks and her contributions to medical science if not for the research done by Rita Skloot, who wrote a book about it. Johns Hopkins profited in money and with scientific advances because of Lacks. In recent years the Lacks family has sought reparations, but more importantly everyone knows about her life and legacy.

The marker of Joseph R. Holmes was dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021 on the grounds of the old courthouse in Charlotte Court House. Holmes dedicated his adult life fighting to ensure that African Americans have equal opportunities in education and other civil rights during Reconstruction. A former slave in Charlotte County, he eventually represented the county as a Republican serving as a delegate of the Virginia Republican Party conventions in 1867 and 1868. In addition, Holmes was elected to represent Charlotte and Halifax in Virginia’s Constitutional Conventions of 1867-1868. Unfortunately, four white men decided to try and stop him from doing his civic duty and on May 3, 1869 shot and murdered him on the courthouse steps. The murderers, John Marshall, Griffin S. Marshall, Willie T. Boyd and Macon C. Morris, fled the state and were never charged. These thugs killed Holmes’ body, but not his spirit of freedom and fight for equality. Kathy Liston spearheaded the campaign to get this historical marker placed at the courthouse.

Lacks and Holmes are a few of the people highlighted with historical markers in Virginia. Historical markers serve as reminders and commemorations of individuals’ contributions and events in history that have shaped our lives in Virginia and America. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources welcomes your suggestions for future markers.

Judy Moore lives in Wylliesburg and is a tour guide at The Central High Museum. She can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com.