Black history of 504 sit-in for disability rights: More than serving food – when will the healing begin?
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.
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 email@example.com or 415-405-3528.
Soul to soul
Cane and wheelchair
Dashiki and Afros
Back in the late ‘70s
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
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
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.