Cast of Characters

Immediate Lacks Family

  • David “Day” Lacks—Henrietta’s husband and cousin.
  • David Jr. “Sonny” Lacks—Henrietta and Day’s third child.
  • Deborah “Dale” Lacks—Henrietta and Day’s fourth child.
  • Eliza Lacks Pleasant—Henrietta’s mother. She died when Henrietta was four.
  • Elsie Lacks (born Lucille Elsie Pleasant)—Henrietta’s second born and eldest daughter. She was institutionalized due to epilepsy and died at age fifteen.
  • Gladys Lacks—Henrietta’s sister, who disapproved of Henrietta’s marriage to Day.
  • Johnny Pleasant—Henrietta’s father. He left his ten children when their mother died.
  • Johnny Pleasant—Henrietta’s father. He left his ten children when their mother died.
  • Lawrence Lacks—Henrietta and Day’s firstborn child
  • Loretta Pleasant—Henrietta’s birth name
  • Tommy Lacks—Henrietta and Day’s grandfather who raised both of them
  • Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman (born Joe Lacks)—Henrietta and Day’s fifth child. Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer shortly after his birth.

  • Extended Lacks Family

  • Albert Lacks—Henrietta’s white great-grandfather. He had five children by a former slave named Maria and left part of the Lacks plantation to them. This section became known as “Lacks Town.”

  • Alfred “Cheetah” Carter—Deborah’s first husband. The marriage was abusive and ended in divorce.
  • Alfred Jr.—Deborah and Cheetah’s firstborn child and Little Alfred’s father
  • Bobette Lacks—Lawrence’s wife. She helped raise Lawrence’s siblings after Henrietta’s death and advocated for them when she discovered they were being abused.
  • Cliff Garret—Henrietta’s cousin. As children, they worked the tobacco fields together.
  • “Crazy Joe” Grinnan—Henrietta’s cousin who competed unsuccessfully with Day for her affection.
  • Davon Meade—Deborah’s grandson who often lived with and took care of her.
  • Ethel—Galen’s wife, an abusive caregiver to Henrietta’s three youngest children.
  • Fred Garret—Henrietta’s cousin who convinced Day and Henrietta to move to Turner Station.
  • Galen—Henrietta’s cousin. He and his wife, Ethel, moved in with Day after Henrietta’s death to help take care of the children. He ended up abusing Deborah.
  • Gary Lacks—Gladys’s son and Deborah’s cousin. A lay preacher, he performed a faith healing on Deborah.
  • LaTonya—Deborah and Cheetah’s second child; Davon’s mother.
  • “Little Alfred”—Deborah’s grandson.
  • Margaret Sturdivant—Henrietta’s cousin and confidante. Henrietta went to her house after radiation treatments at Johns Hopkins.
  • Reverend James Pullum—Deborah’s second ex-husband, a former steel-mill worker who became a preacher.
  • Sadie Sturdivant—Margaret’s sister, Henrietta’s cousin and confidante. She supported Henrietta during  her illness. She and Henrietta sometimes sneaked out to go dancing.
  • Members of the Medical and Scientific Community

  • Alexis Carrel—French surgeon and Nobel Prize recipient who claimed to have cultured “immortal” chicken-heart cells.
  • Chester Southam—cancer researcher who conducted unethical experiments to see whether or not HeLa could “infect” people with cancer.
  • Christoph Lengauer—cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins who helped develop FISH, a technique used to detect and identify DNA sequences, and who reached out to members of the Lacks family.
  • Emanuel Mandel—director of medicine at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital (JCDH) who partnered with Southam in unethical experiments.
  • Dr. George Gey—head of tissue-culture research at Johns Hopkins. He developed the techniques used to grow HeLa cells from Henrietta’s cancer tissue in his lab.
  • Howard Jones—Henrietta’s gynecologist at Johns Hopkins.
  • Leonard Hayflick—microbiologist who proved that normal cells die when they’ve doubled about fifty times. This is known as the Hayflick limit.
  • Margaret Gey—George Gey’s wife and research assistant. She was trained as a surgical nurse.
  • Mary Kubicek—George Gey’s lab assistant who cultured HeLa cells for the first time.
  • Richard Wesley TeLinde—one of the top cervical cancer experts in the country at the time of Henrietta’s diagnosis. His research involved taking tissue samples from Henrietta and other cervical cancer patients at Johns Hopkins.
  • Roland Pattillo—professor of gynecology at Morehouse School of Medicine who was one of George Gey’s only African American students. He organizes a yearly HeLa conference at Morehouse in Henrietta’s honor.
  • Stanley Gartler—the geneticist who dropped the “HeLa bomb” when he proposed that many of the most commonly used cell cultures had been contaminated by HeLa
  • Susan Hsu—the postdoctoral student in Victor McKusick’s lab who was assigned to make contact with the Lackses and request samples from them for genetic testing without informed consent
  • Victor McKusick—geneticist at Johns Hopkins who conducted research on samples taken from Henrietta’s children without informed consent to learn more about HeLa cells.
  • Walter Nelson-Rees—the geneticist who tracked and published the names of cell lines contaminated with HeLa without first warning the researchers he exposed. He became known as a vigilante.

  • Journalists and Others

  • Courtney “Mama” Speed—resident of Turners Station and owner of Speed’s Grocery. She organized an effort to build a Henrietta Lacks museum.
  • John Moore—cancer patient who unsuccessfully sued his doctor and the regents of the University of California over the use of his cells to create the Mo cell line.
  • Michael Gold—author of “A Conspiracy of Cells.” He published details from Henrietta’s medical records and autopsy report without permission from the Lacks family.
  • Michael Rogers—Rolling Stone reporter who wrote an article about the Lacks family in 1976. He was the first journalist to contact the Lackses.
  • Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield—attempted to sue Johns Hopkins and the Lacks family.
  • Ted Slavin—a hemophiliac whose doctor told him his cells were valuable. Slavin founded Essential Biologicals, a company that sold his cells, and later cells from other people so individuals could profit from their own biological materials.

  • Credit: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Reader's Guide.