This month we feature activist and advocate, Bradley Lomax.
He had Multiple Sclerosis and used a wheelchair.
In 1974, Lomax was working at the Panthers' George Jackson Clinic, which provided free community medical care as part of the BPP "serve the people" programs. Recognizing the need for more disability services and supports in his own community, in 1975, Lomax approached Ed Roberts (who had helped found the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley in 1972), with a proposal to open a Center for Independent Living (CIL) in East Oakland under Black Panther sponsorship. Less than a year later, with Lomax as one of a two-person staff, the East Oakland CIL opened in a storefront, offering basic peer counseling and attendant referral.
The BPP had no particular disability policy, but with Lomax's active participation in disability advocacy, they began supporting other initiatives, most notably the historic 504 sit-ins to force the government to implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The 504 sit-ins were a seminal moment in the Disability Rights movement. The San Francisco federal building sit in, the only one that endured, lasted 28 days and was critical in forcing the signing of the 504 regulations almost unchanged.
Corbett O'Toole, who stayed in the San Fransisco Department of Health Education Welfare (HEW) building for the duration of the protest, highlights how essential his involvement was:
"By far the most critical gift given us by our allies was the Black Panthers' commitment to feed each protester in the building one hot meal every day….The Panthers' representative explained that the decision of Panthers Brad Lomax and Chuck Jackson to participate in the sit-in necessitated a Panther response….and that if Lomax and Jackson thought we were worth their dedication, then the Panthers would support all of us. I was a white girl from Boston who'd been carefully taught that all African American males were necessarily/of necessity my enemy. But I understood promises to support each others' struggles."
At the time, the Black Panthers were operating a program which provided free meals before and after school to hundreds of children in the Bay Area. Among the group occupying the HEW building were two Panthers, Brad Lomax and his non-disabled colleague, Chuck Jackson (who later became my attendant when a group of us went to Washington). I don’t know who got the bright idea first, but it was not many days after we marched into the building that the Black Panthers started delivering one or two wonderful meals every day for all the demonstrators in the building.
An Army Marches on its Stomach, by Hale Zukas
The Panthers came to this sit-in and extended this support for one main reason: because of Bradley Lomax. Lomax was a disabled Panther and a Panther disability rights/independent living movement leader whose work at this juncture began well before the HEW building occupation. For Lomax, revolutionary black nationalism and disability power had already combined.
"Brad participated in the sit-in from the beginning," remembers Kitty Cone, "and so did this wonderful guy Chuck [Jackson] who came to do Brad's attendant work and then did attendant work for other people" during the course of the occupation. When the protesters selected delegates to travel to D.C. to put pressure on President Carter and HEW secretary Califano, Lomax and Jackson were both chosen, and the Black Panther Party paid their way. Initially, the presence of Lomax and Jackson, both Panthers, as protesters inside the federal building undoubtedly motivated the Black Panthers to support the action by bringing food. "I don't think we would have had as active participation by the Panthers without Brad."
Lomax's Matrix: Disability, Solidarity, and the Black Power of 504
You can find out more about the Black History of 504 here:
Black History Of 504 Sit-In For Disability Rights More Than Serving Food- When Will The Healing Begin
A special thanks to the Lead On Network for the inspiration for this month's post.