The Disability Visibility Project has posted various blog posts about the history of the 504 sit in. Here is a piece by activist Leroy Moore originally published on February 11, 2014 in SF BayView, “Black history of 504 sit-in for disability rights: More than serving food—when will the healing begin?”
Below are some excerpts to Leroy’s article.
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.
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.
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.
For more about the “Patient No More!” exhibit: http://longmoreinstitute.sfsu.edu/patientnomore
How to contact the project if you have a story or memorabilia from the 504 sit-in:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-405-3528.