Chapter 9 Summary

1999

A few days after Day hung up on Rebecca, she drove to Baltimore to speak with his second son, who was also named David, but who went by Sonny. She paged Sonny several times from her hotel room at the Holiday Inn, but he did not reply. While she waited, she reviewed a Rolling Stone article about the Lacks family from the 1970s. As she read through it, she realized that the writer of the article had stayed in the same Holiday Inn when he researched the Lacks family decades before.

Sonny never called back, so eventually Rebecca gave up and set out to find Henrietta’s old address in Turner Station, on the outskirts of the city. It was a poor neighborhood that was generally ignored by mapmakers, and Rebecca had to consult four different maps to figure out how to get there. She knew it had been a booming town during World War II, but since then it had been in decline. Most stores and schools there were closed, and it was notorious for violence and drug abuse.

Rebecca could not find Henrietta’s old house, so she drove to the address of a grocery store in Turner Station that had been proposed as a site for a Henrietta Lacks museum. There Rebecca saw only an old mobile home with some black men sitting on the porch. Unnerved, she circled the neighborhood several times. People waved, smiling and shaking their heads at this young white woman driving in circles. A group of children began to follow her car as a game.

Eventually Rebecca arrived at a Baptist church she had seen mentioned in one of her articles, and she tried to go inside. It was locked, but a preacher soon arrived and took her to the store she wanted—which turned out to be the mobile home with the men on the porch. The men greeted her cheerfully and introduced her to Courtney Speed, a petite but fearless shop owner who had indeed attempted to create a Henrietta Lacks museum at one time.

When Rebecca mentioned Henrietta’s name, Speed looked wary. “You know Mr. Cofield? Did he send you?” Rebecca had no idea who Cofield was, but she admitted that the Lackses were reluctant to speak with her. Speed said she would not give an interview without the consent of the Lacks family, but she did show Rebecca an old BBC documentary about Henrietta.

At the end of this strange day, Rebecca finally spoke to Sonny, who said he had decided against speaking to her. She asked for contact information for his relatives in Clover, Virginia, Henrietta’s hometown. He just laughed and wished her luck.