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Black history of 504 sit-in for disability rights: More than serving food – when will the healing begin?

February 11, 2014

by Leroy Moore

Since I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1991, I’ve listened and read many stories about the disability rights movement and the 1977 historic sit-in at the Federal Building in San Francisco to get the government to pass strong regulations to implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when I worked at many nonprofits for people with disabilities on both sides of the Bay. At that time all the way to today, names were thrown around like Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann and so many more, but my ears perked up when the story was told how the Black Panther Party got involved – with people like Brad Lomax, Chuck Johnson, Gary Norris Gray, Don Galloway, Johnnie Lacy, Brigardo Groves, Ron Washington and Dennis Billups – because they looked like me, Black and disabled.

Brad Lomax, his brother Glenn 051274
The photo of Brad Lomax and his brother Glenn was emailed to me almost four years ago from Glenn himself with permission to use it to help tell the full story of his brother’s involvement and leadership in the disability rights movement of the late ‘70s. Glenn trusted me with it and with that trust I’m using it for this piece. Although I lost contact, I want to thank Glenn for his trust in me.
Although there have been articles and chapters here and there by academic scholars, there hasn’t been a book or an in depth, detailed account of not only the Black Panthers’ involvement beyond serving food to the protesters but the work of Black disabled activists during and after the 504 sit-in in 1977. Some relatives that I contacted of Black disabled activists who gave their sweat, words and heart to the sit-in were so deeply hurt by the white leadership at that time that till this day they can’t talk about it.

When will the healing begin? It takes openness and relationships over time to build up the trust for a chance to tell it like it is. Yes, even for me, my fence has been up when it comes to the local disability rights movement, and I wasn’t even at the nearly month-long Section 504 sit-in, which demanded strong implementation of Section 504, the first federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities.

However, now, in my late 40s, I’ve come to realize that we must take advantage of opportunities to start this healing process, knowing that not one grant funded event can completely heal these open wounds, but it can be a building block institutionally – and more importantly personally and community-wide – to tell our stories. That is why I’m involved with the upcoming exhibit, “Patient No More! People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights,” about the historic 504 sit-in at the Federal Building and what happened after.

“Patient No More!” is a project with a local focus that centers upon the many and varied individual stories of 504 still to be told. Created by the Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, there will be a website, an exhibit at the Ed Roberts campus opening in the summer of 2015, a traveling version and a program of events once the exhibit is open. The main focus will be new video and oral histories by many of those who have never been given the opportunity to tell their stories before.

The 1970s were different times, and activism was everywhere. Several members of the Black Panther Party were in the protest for the full 26 days and also went to Washington with the group who lobbied President Carter and other politicians. Many church groups, activist organizations and informal coalitions gave food, time and help, and they are the core of the story, as much as the people inside the protest.

“Patient No More!” is a project with a local focus that centers upon the many and varied individual stories of 504 still to be told.

I might be taking a risk, but I hope the Black community in the Bay Area will share their stories of that time to finally tell the full story of our key involvement in the 504 sit-in and what came out of it that helped the Black disabled community and the Black community, covering all sides of the story – racism, ableism, a sense of accomplishment, self-pride, empowerment, frustrations etc.

Believe me, it is hard for me to be so trustful and be open to this project but I do know that I and others have to know the full stories of our Black and Brown disabled and non-disabled brothers and sisters in the 504 sit-in – beyond serving food – that shaped how we live today not only locally but nationally, because some of us were a part of that change.

I’ve provided below some ideas on how to help with this exhibit. Also, as a poet, I like to express how I feel about many Black disabled people who were there at the 1977 504 sit-in or supported and who continued their work and how we are building on it through a poem, “Krip-Soul Brothers.”

How to help us

1. Do you know someone who was involved in the 504 sit-in?

Because the protest was so large and lasted for so long, there are few written records of everyone who was there; we know that many groups and individuals helped in many ways, but memories are fading. If readers were there or went to a rally or know someone who did, we would love to hear about it. If you have memorabilia or a photograph, we would love to take a look and find out more. If you think someone may know something about the 504 sit-in, however small, ask them or encourage them to get in touch.

2. Do you know any of these people?

Bradley Lomax, a BPP member and wheelchair rider has sadly passed on. We have some wonderful photographs of Brad, but we are anxious to track down any friends or family who may have memories to share and would love to find his attendant, Chuck Jackson, and other protesters like Ron Washington, Denise Darensbourg, Margaret (Dusty) Irvine and Joyce Jackson, who all played an important part in the sit-in.

To find out more, here are two links for the project – a general one to learn more about the project, http://longmoreinstitute.sfsu.edu/patientnomore, and another for those who do have memorabilia or a story they want to share, http://longmoreinstitute.sfsu.edu/pages/patient-no-more-seeking-your-stories-and-memorabilia.

To get involved, contact Leroy F. Moore Jr. at Kriphopnation@gmail.com or 510-649-8438. The coordinators of this project can also be contacted directly and are very happy to visit and meet with people in any way that works; contact Emily Beitiks, assistant director, Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, San Francisco State University, at beitiks@sfsu.edu or 415-405-3528.

Krip-Soul Brothers

Soul to soul

Cane and wheelchair

Dashiki and Afros

Back in the late ‘70s

Krip-Soul Brothers

Black with a disability

Lomax and Galloway

Gave the Black community their own way

Can’t erase history

They brought out the Panthers

Remember my brothers and sisters

Dashikis and Afros you must know

Krip-Soul Brothers

We must honor

Pass it on so back to school u must go

Galloway, Chair of CIL’s Black Caucus

Cause nothing about us without us

His work sometimes overshadowed

By White disabled peeps in the movement

Sister Johnnie Lacy, the first Black disabled director

Of an independent living center in the SF Bay Area

East Bay equaled Black disabled planet

Krip-Soul Brothers

On both sides of the Bay

Dennis Billups and Brigardo Groves

Had their own moves

At the 504 sit-in

Both shaped the future of San Francisco

Hold up, this is not the end

So many Krip-Soul Brothers

Put their sweat and time in

From activism, counseling to music

Krip-Soul Brothers might not have known each other

From the streets to the studio

Malcolm Samuel spit Black revolutionary poetry from his wheelchair

Blind Joe Capers engineered Oakland’s Hip-Hop sound

Brigardo Groves helped KPOO stay on the air

Krip-Soul Brothers still are around

Moore and Gray set up shop in the ‘90s

DAMO for krips of color, the only show in town

Advocacy and arts straight from our hearts

We still had a lot to learn

Then came Patty Berne

Put everything on ice, introduced disability justice

Race, class and GBLTQ, a gentle but sharp poke like a cactus

Woke up many Krip-Soul Brothers to look at their own privilege

Krip-Soul Brothers and Sisters will continue to change

In our never-ending book, page after page

Some written and some blank

We will all age

The youth will text on what comes next

Krip-Soul Brothers and Sisters take the stage

No matter if it is Francis or Frank

Waking up our memory banks

This poem is for the youth’s sake

The path has been laid out

If you haven’t been taught, then shout out

“Where is my history, my Krip-Soul Brothers?”

Krip-Hop Nation founder Leroy F. Moore Jr. can be reached at Kriphopnation@gmail.com.

 

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2 thoughts on “Black history of 504 sit-in for disability rights: More than serving food – when will the healing begin?

  1. Kitty Cone

    I am so sad to report that the lovely, gentle, articulate Joyce Jackson passed away just a short while ago. To my recollection, Johnnie Lacy was not inside the building, but she may have been outside among the supporters. Dennis Billups, Ron Washington, Chuck Jackson and Brad Lomax were part of the small contingent chosen to travel to Washington to speak truth to power. They were all true militants and made wonderful contributions.

    Reply

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