Johnnie Lacy, Social Justice Pioneer

Black and white photo of Johnnie Lacy with a big smile on her face. White text around photo that says Johnnie Lacy. Black History Month and Disability History. Photo by Kenneth Stein.

All through February, join Independence Now as we proudly celebrate Black History Month by sharing stories of black activists and pioneers in the disability rights movement. Today we’re sharing the story of Johnnie Lacy, a social justice pioneer and one of the founding members of the first Center for Independent Living (CIL), in Berkeley, CA. At age 19, she contracted polio and became paralyzed.

Lacy later attended San Francisco State University to study speech-language pathology, but the head of the department attempted to block her from being interred in his school. In a 1998 interview for UC Berkeley’s oral history archive, Lacy recalls, “. . . my final and departing shot to him was that if I were just a woman, he could not do this to me; if I were only a person of color, he would not be able to do this to me;” the only way that you are able to take this unfair advantage is because I have a disability.”

Johnnie Lacy was allowed to enroll in the program, but she was not allowed to be a part of the school or participate in her graduation. She then became an activist in the Disability Rights Movement, working at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living and similar institutions, eventually becoming the Director of Community Resources for Independent Living in Hayward, California. She often spoke of being excluded from the Black community due to her disability and from the disability community due to being a person of color. As a Black woman in a wheelchair, she educated her communities about race and disability and served as a role model for many other black women with disabilities.

Johnnie Lacy, Social Justice Pioneer
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