June 19, 2023 (Berkeley, CA) – Today we celebrate Juneteenth, which is also commonly referred to as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” “Freedom Day,” or “Emancipation Day.” It commemorates the emancipation of 250,000 African American slaves in Texas on June 19th, 1865 – almost two years after Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth honors the abolition movement, a collective resistance effort by slaves and their allies. While it’s been celebrated in many communities since the 1860s, it finally became a federal holiday in 2021. The day serves as a reminder to reflect on the progress society has made while also recognizing there still is work to be done to create a more equitable and just future.
While Juneteenth celebrates the abolition of slavery and brings focus on the continued fight for racial equality, there is no denying the relationship between the Black civil rights movements and the disability rights movements in the United States. Many Black activists in the civil rights movement have significantly influenced and in some cases, were directly involved in the disability rights and independent living movements, and many Black liberation organizers were people with disabilities.
Abolitionist and freedom fighter Harriet Tubman herself was a person with a disability. As were civil rights heroes Fanny Lou Hamer and Mary Davidson, organizer and founding member of the National Association for Black Social Workers. A more recent example of Black disability rights activists is Brad Lomax. Lomax was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had to be carried onto the bus because he was a wheelchair user. He was a member of the Black Panther Party and helped lead the 504 Sit-in in San Francisco. The Black Panthers assisted the protestors at the sit-in with food and supplies helping protestors continue their fight for accessibility.
Today, Black artists and activists with disabilities are leading the way to a more inclusive and accessible future for all. Black, disabled writer Keri Grey is a Senior Director at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), where she socially and politically mobilizes, empowers, and equips people with disabilities from marginalized communities from an intersectional framework. Talila Lewis is a Black, disabled is “an abolitionist community lawyer, educator, and organizer whose work reveals and addresses the inextricable links between ableism, racism, classism, and all forms of systemic oppression and structural inequity.”
CIL continues to fight for access for all and recognizes that this means working at the intersection of disability rights and other social justice movements to gain rights, access, and inclusion for all those most excluded from the resources and power needed to do so. Over the next year, the CIL is working to increase our work with people with disabilities who bear the greatest consequences of this exclusion – those who are currently and formerly-incarcerated, people who are unhoused and people who are institutionalized.