Courtney Speed: Fighting to Improve Turner Station

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Courtney Speed? What did she do for the Turner Station community? How did she advocate for Henrietta Lacks?

Courtney Speed is a businesswoman from Turner Station. She sought recognition of Henrietta Lacks to help raise the profile of her community.

Learn about Courtney Speed, Turner Station, and recognizing Henrietta Lacks.

Courtney Speed Learns About Henrietta Lacks

The Lacks family was invited to the HeLa conference and welcomed as honored guests; people even asked for their autographs. It was a pivotal moment for Deborah, who gave a heartfelt speech about how much she missed her mother.

The BBC filmed the conference, and shortly thereafter visited Turner Station to interview residents about Henrietta. Their presence piqued the interest of Courtney Speed, Turner Station resident and the owner of a local grocery store and beauty parlor. Speed had just founded an organization devoted to raising Turner Station’s profile by touting famous residents of the past.

The organization was founded because this was clear to Courtney Speed: Turner Station in 1999 was no longer the bustling neighborhood it was in the 40s. The streets had been rezoned for commercial purposes—there was now a massive power plant in the middle of the neighborhood—and most of the residents had moved elsewhere.

Skloot drove around the small neighborhood several times, passing by both Henrietta’s old home and a run-down mobile home where Courtney Speed’s grocery store was supposed to be. Through a chance meeting with a local pastor, she discovered that the mobile home was Speed’s Grocery, and she was quickly thereafter introduced to Courtney Speed.

Meeting Courtney Speed, Turner Station’s Advocate

When Skloot mentioned that she was writing about Henrietta, Courtney Speed clammed up, referencing the trouble with Cofield. Although Speed refused to say anything more about the Lackses until Skloot met with the family, she did supply Skloot with the BBC documentary, which Skloot had been trying to find for months. The documentary featured Henrietta’s cousins from Clover, and when Sonny finally returned Skloot’s calls, saying that the family had decided not to meet her after all, Skloot resolved to visit Clover herself.

Courtney Speed and a colleague named Barbara Wyche began writing letters to federal and state politicians, as well as the Smithsonian museum, urging them to recognize Henrietta’s contribution to science. After an intimate event at the Smithsonian, which the Lackses attended, a curator advised Speed and Wyche to found a museum in Turner Station devoted to African-American health. Speed and Wyche created the Henrietta Lacks Health History Museum Foundation with Speed as president and began planning events and making Henrietta Lacks merchandise. Deborah wasn’t given an official position in the foundation, but she spoke at the group’s events and grudgingly gave her blessing to their using her mother’s name and fundraising (she hoped their efforts would help her learn more about her mother).

Speed and Wyche’s lobbying on Henrietta’s behalf continued to bear fruit: The Maryland State Senate offered an “official congratulations” to Henrietta Lacks, and, in 1997, a congressman from Maryland paid formal tribute to Henrietta in the US House of Representatives. Courtney Speed and Wyche had also petitioned Hopkins for help in celebrating Henrietta’s life, and although the institution wasn’t sure what role to play, a small committee began meeting informally to discuss ways to commemorate Henrietta’s contribution to science.

Courtney Speed: Fighting to Improve Turner Station

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Rebecca Skloot's "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks summary:

  • How Henrietta's cells became used in thousands of labs worldwide
  • The complications of Henrietta's lack of consent
  • How the Lacks family is coping with the impact of Henrietta's legacy

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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