​Black History and Disability

Posted by Nila Morton in Life After Paralysis on February 17, 2023 # Lifestyle

Nula MortonFebruary is a very special month for me because it’s Black History Month! It’s an important time to remember the struggles and oppression faced by people of the Black community throughout history in America. Also, it’s a time to acknowledge and celebrate important events and leaders who have made a huge impact in the community and the world. As we take the time to remember and celebrate, we must also acknowledge Black disabled leaders who also contributed to the Black community and paved the way for many Black disabled people.

When I was growing up, I did not see much Black disabled representation, especially while learning Black History. I believed that disabled people could not contribute to society because, in my history classes growing up, there was rarely any information about disabled people being known for their work that helped create the world we live in today. I assumed that being disabled and being a leader could not coexist. I would often feel this would be true for Black History because we weren’t taught about any Black disabled people's contribution to social justice movements or any important events throughout history.

Being Black already comes with its unique challenges as we are often faced with discrimination. Adding disability will likely bring even more challenges because ableism has come into play. I know identifying as disabled for Black people can be difficult because we do not want to have any additional problems that we already have from racism. Therefore, it’s important to highlight Black leaders' disabilities to show the power between disability and strength.

I want to highlight a few important Black history makers who were and are disabled that made a difference in this world.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist and activist. Born into slavery, she later escaped and became a conductor of the Underground Railroad, where she helped lead enslaved people to freedom. It has been hidden in history that Tubman had epilepsy. When she was a teenager, she suffered a severe brain injury caused by a slave owner who struck her in the head. Tubman would have painful headaches, seizures, and spells of unconsciousness. It was through courage, strength, and determination that Tubman was able to free many enslaved people, including her family. Even with her disability.

Tom Wiggins

Tom Wiggins was a pianist. As an infant, he and his family were sold into slavery. Due to his blindness, Wiggins wasn’t able to work, but at the age of four, he could imitate sound and music. He had access to a piano where he was able to pick up on notes and songs. After being given lessons and access to music, he went on to perform at concerts throughout America and Europe. Wiggins's music has inspired many music lovers throughout the world, including Elton John who composed a song in his honor.

Haben Girma

Haben Girma is the first blind and deaf graduate from Harvard Law School and is a human rights lawyer advancing disability justice. After graduating from Harvard Law, she was named a White House Champion of Change. She also received the Helen Keller Achievement, a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 lists, and Time100 Talks. Girma has written a memoir called The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. She is an advocate that uses her platform to create long-lasting solutions to make a more inclusive society for disabled people.

I could go on and on highlighting many amazing Black disabled history makers. Acknowledging the disability of these leaders can help normalize disability for the Black community and show people that being disabled doesn’t mean you cannot make a change. There is power in being disabled and many Black leaders have proven that.

My name is Nila Morton. I’m a 23-year-old woman in a wheelchair. I have a bachelor's degree in Psychology and hope to become a Clinical Psychologist one day. I love being around my family and friends. I have a dog named Chloe, who is the light of my life. My favorite things to do are shopping, traveling, trying new restaurants, writing, and reading. I hope that every day I inspire other disabled people to not be ashamed of their disability and to live their life to the fullest.

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