Black History Month and People with Disabilities

By Timotheus Gordon

Black History Month is here! While the importance of Black History is forever expanding, some parts are still left out and needs to be brought front and center. We must discuss the roles that black people with disabilities played in that history. I don’t agree with Stacey Dash’s call to boycott Black History Month as a result of no people of color getting Oscar nominations. However, her comments can allude to rehashing of segregation and certain stereotypes among disabled people in the black community.

People with disabilities are rarely mentioned in Black HIstory, and they have made as many achievements in their communities as their non-disabled peers. Occasionally, we may hear Ray Charles’ or Stevie Wonder’s name. Both are entertainers though. Perhaps the black community still fears disability for cultural reasons, or people just may not know a lot on particular disabilities, such as invisible disablities (e.g., mental illness, autism).

However, it is important for people of color, especially the African-American community, to research and pay homage to people with disabilities. Learning how black disabled people contributed to history can not only open eyes of mainstream culture, it can also help disabled youth of color to go after their goals and dreams.

Here are examples of disabled heroes in the African-American community:

Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins : blind and autistic musical prodigy

Barbara Chaline Jordan: U.S. Representative; first African American woman to deliver a keynote address at the convention of a major political party

Harriet Tubman: Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom along the route of the Underground Railroad.

Horace Pippin: First self-taught African American painter of national recognition.

David Patterson: Second blind U.S. governor and first New York governor of African-American descent.

Curtis Pride: First African American with a disability to play in the World Series

Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Sphere Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer. Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "'Round Midnight"

Wilma Rudolph: An American track and field sprinter, who competed in the 100 and 200 meters dash. Rudolph was considered the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s and competed in two Olympic Games, in 1956 and in 1960.

Harry Belafonte: An American singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist.

Teddy Pendergrass: Theodore DeReese "Teddy" Pendergrass was an American R&B/soul singer and songwriter. He first rose to fame as lead singer of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in the 1970s

Muhammad Ali: “Arguably boxing's most celebrated athlete, Muhammad Ali is also known for his public stance against the Vietnam War and his longtime battle with Parkinson's disease, (Biography.com).”

There are more that I haven’t listed; you have to research for more examples. Nonetheless, there are famous people that we already know may have more in common that we thought. Communities must push for more icons with disabilities and recognize those who are already doing amazing things despite their disabilities. Otherwise, the next generation will be prone to be misinformed about their disabilities, making them feel less than important than the examples I provided.

Timotheus Gordon is a disability advocate, member of Advance Youth Leadership Power, and author of @BlackAutist, a blog where posts are focused on not only #autismacceptance but also issues & news surrounding autistic #peopleofcolor.