Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Setting

By Rebecca Skloot

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Clover, Virginia and Turner Station (near Baltimore, MD)

Henrietta and Day Lacks start their lives together as young people growing up in the "home-house," the family home of their grandparents Tommy and Chloe Lacks. It seems pastoral and idyllic, and includes acres of tobacco plants, watering holes, and lots of green.

The home-house stands in Lacks Town, a poor division of Clover, Virginia, a rural town about 100 miles southwest of Richmond. Tommy Lacks inherited the land (after several generations) from a white ancestor who'd been owner of a plantation and many slaves on that land. The house was where some of the slaves lived.

Henrietta and Day move to the urban landscape of Turner Station for work, but Henrietta returns almost every weekend to the home she loves in Clover. It's there that almost all of her kin live, in various houses (in various states of disrepair) on Lacks Town Road. Despite the poverty, decay, and vestiges of racism, rural Clover has special claim on the family as their place of origin.

Turner Station is a boomtown of sorts, sprouting up to house the mostly black workers at the steel mill in Sparrows Point during World War II. And as with most boomtowns, Turner Station goes bust when the industry goes elsewhere. It's plagued by poverty, urban decay, and violence.

But Courtney Speed, community activist, business owner and long-time resident of Turner Station maintains that the place is historically significant and should be brought to the attention of the world—not least of all because Henrietta Lacks lived there.

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