ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — City Council members have unanimously voted to give the former Lee Plaza two new names following Monday night’s meeting.
The portion of the public area where a monument honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee once stood is now named Henrietta Lacks Plaza and the space near where the flags and war memorial are located is now Freedom Plaza.
Vice Mayor Trish White-Boyd says the city council approved the renaming at their meeting on Monday, July 19 with a 6-0 vote.
“There’s been some issues with the plaza, so having two separate names will be good, especially with the history of Henrietta Lacks being from Roanoke and the freedom with all the flags over there,” said Natalie Horton of Roanoke.
“I think it’s time to change the name to something else to reflect our community better,” said Carrie Tomlinson, also a Roanoke resident.
The plaza, which is located directly across from the Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building on Church Avenue SW, will be divided by a stretch of the sidewalk down the center of the public place.
Henrietta Lacks was born in Roanoke, but moved away when she was four years old. In 1951, at age 31, Lacks passed away from cervical cancer but her cells continued to live. Those cells, now called HeLa cells, are still being used for medical studies.
The vice mayor — who chairs Roanoke’s Equity and Empowerment Advisory Board, which conducted several types of renaming surveys — says Lacks topped all of the surveys.
“During the public hearing she got the most requests,” White-Boyd said. “She came in number one through the emails, phone calls, and she came in number one via the survey we had done.”
However, White-Boyd also wanted a name that honors the fallen veterans whose names are inscribed on several pillars at the war memorial. She says she decided to recommend two names and chose Freedom Plaza as the potential second name to honor those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“My father was killed in the Vietnam War. My husband is a veteran. My son is a veteran. My brothers are both veterans. Both grandparents are veterans. I was born on Veterans Day!” White-Boyd added.
For some, however, two names for the one plaza seem unnecessary.
“Why are we dividing the plaza into two different names? What’s the point in that? Why can’t we just give it one name and honor a Roanoke native and be done?” Roanoke resident Kendra Larew asked.
“It should bring the community together, but in reality, that’s never going to happen. It’s just not. That’s human nature,” added Larew.
City officials hope the new names for the plaza will reflect the true spirit of the Star City.
White-Boyd says she hopes a monument is erected in the same location where the monument for Robert E. Lee once stood before it was removed. According to the vice mayor, there are already ideas, but funding will be needed. She’s encouraged companies, particularly those in the medical field, and residents to donate, saying anyone interested can contact her at City Hall.
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