Disabled Black History Month: Week 1
February is Black History Month, and we’ve been seeing some great posts from para-athlete Dorian Taylor on social media that we wanted to share with our community. Dorian’s been chronicling #disabledblackhistorymonth, sharing interesting and inspiring stories of badass individuals you should know about, so we’ll be doing a weekly round-up of their shout-outs all month. Check out these mini bios, and feel free to share names or stories of those who inspire you for #blackhistorymonth and #disabledblackhistorymonth in the comments.
by Dorian Taylor
(Black and white photo of Barbara Jordan at the podium, speaking with her arms up)
Barbara Jordan, from Houston, Texas, was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate after reconstruction. She had MS since about the 60s. Although she was never officially out of the closet, she was never officially in the closet either. She lived with her partner Nancy Earl, until her death in 1995, when she drowned in a pool due to complications from pneumonia.
(Black and white photo of Al standing at a microphone, next to Duke Ellington. He has a tuxedo on and sunglasses over his eyes)
Al Hibbler was a baritone for Duke Ellington's band. He was a jazz singer but was probably best known for being the bridge between early R&B and early pop.
Born in Mississippi in 1915, he played with Ellington's band until 1951 when there was a dispute over wages and he became a solo singer. He was born blind.
(Sepia tone photo of a young Harriet Tubman)
Harriet Tubman I mean really needs no introduction. It is widely known that Harriet Tubman was disabled, but due to lack of medical records is unclear what her disability was. It is assumed that she had TBI. She had epilepsy after being beat in the head with a lead pipe when she was young, and was really vocal about her disabilities. And still, she was the leader of the Underground Railroad, performed underground dental surgeries, and many things we’ll probably never know.
(Photo is of Fannie Lou Hamer mid-speech, with a powerful stance and her fist raised)
Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting rights activist and women's rights activist. She was vice chair of 1964 Freedom Democratic party which was represented at the Democratic National Convention. She had a large part in the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was the co-founder of the National Women's political caucus. She was also a survivor of childhood polio. Although being physically disabled, that didn't stop her from enduring many beatings from the police and white supremacists for asserting her voting rights. One of her most famous quotes is "Nobody's Free Until We ARE All Free."
(Color photo of Lois Curtis at home. She has a smooth brown skin tone, wide smile and a short afro)
Lois Curtis, 51, currently resides in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
Born with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, Lois had a lot of mental health issues growing up that placed her in institutions. Those institutional placements were only because no one bothered to find an appropriate placement for her. Spending most of her early years in deep depression, Lois knew there was a better place for her and the community.
"Nobody's place is to be locked up"—she wanted a life that she saw everyone else have. The state of Georgia refused to provide services to allow Lois and other people to live within the community. In 1995, with the help of a legal advocate, Lois sued the state of Georgia for violation of the ADA. The suit claimed that the state should be able to provide adequate care for people as an alternative to living in institutions and that a person's mental or physical disabilities alone was not enough to justify a person living in an institution.
Now known as the Olmstead Act, this landmark decision has reverberated across the nation. Even though we're still behind, states now legally have to provide alternatives to incarceration for intellectually, physically, and mentally disabled folks to be able to be integrated into the community. To no longer be separated from all of the things that you and I value. It took Lois a while to find a stable home but since then she has thrived, to the point that she's now a known artist and travels around doing public speaking. A life that she no doubt carved for herself and many others. https://loiscurtisart.ecrater.com
(Black and white photo is of Johnnie Lacy, she's got a big old smile on her face)
Johnnie Lacy was a social justice pioneer, one of the founding members of the Center for Independent Living. Johnnie Lacy contracted polio at 19 during a nursing practical, and she was paralyzed. After rehabilitation, she attended San Francisco State University for speech language pathology. The head of the speech language Pathology Department went out of his way to draw up a petition that would block her from being interred in his school. He won, and although she was allowed to enroll in the program, she was not allowed to be a part of the school, she was not even allowed to participate in her graduation.
Unfortunately most of her legacy is now just oral history.
She spoke a lot about being defiantly black and disabled, and being that way kept her out of Black activist spaces.
“It has been problematic for blacks to identify with disability. My classmates would have had to accept my disability within the same intellectual framework as my blackness–that of an oppressed minority opposite.
I believe that African Americans see disability in the same way that everybody else sees it–worthless, mindless–without realizing that this is the same attitude held by others toward African Americans. This belief in effect cancels out the black identity they share with a disabled black person, both socially and culturally, because the disability experience is not viewed in the same context as if one were only black, and not disabled. Because of this myopic view, I as a black disabled person could not share in the intellectual dialogue viewed as exclusive. I could be one or the other but not both."