From the start, the disability rights movement has been inextricably interwoven with Black Americans’ fight for civil rights.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s inspired many disability rights advocates, who used the model and tactics demonstrated by Black activists to pursue deinstitutionalization and legal rights.
Black disabled activists, as well as Black supporters without disabilities, provided instrumental support to the disability rights movement from the beginning—and strong alliances linked the two movements.
Similarly, disability rights activists used the legal precedents of the Civil Rights Act to enshrine the rights of people with disabilities. Brown v. Board of Education, which had determined that “separate but equal” schools were illegal, was a powerful tool for activists fighting for students with disabilities’ right to a quality public education delivered alongside their peers.
To this day, Black students and students with disabilities remain subject to disproportionate negative educational outcomes, including violent discipline, and Black students with disabilities face the impacts of both structural racism and ableism. We have a long way to go to ensure that Black students and students with disabilities receive equitable educational opportunities.
But even as that fight goes on, it is important to recognize the immense contributions that Black activists have made to the disability rights movement. This month, we’re highlighting their work.
Lois Curtis — Fighting for the Right to Live in the Community
Lois Curtis is a Black disability activist and artist best known for her role as a plaintiff in the Olmstead vs L.C. Supreme Court Case establishing the right of people with disabilities to live independently.
Brad Lomax—Uniting the Civil Rights and Disability Rights Movements
Brad Lomax (1950–1984), a Civil Rights leader and disability rights activist, brought together the two movements to present a united front in the fight for equity—most notably during 1977’s 504 Sit-In.
Fannie Lou Hamer—Paving the Way for the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Disability Rights Movements
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977), a civil rights activist with multiple disabilities, was a pivotal figure in the fight for Black enfranchisement, women’s rights, and civil rights.
Johnnie Lacy—An Advocate for Independent Living
Johnnie Lacy (1937–2010) helped found the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and ran Hayward, California’s Community Resources for Independent Living (CRIL) for over a decade.
Donald Galloway—Fighting for Full Participation in Society
Donald Galloway (1938–2011) was a fierce advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and for the inclusion of people of color in the disability rights movement.