The Black Panther Party, a creation of Huey Newton and fellow student Bobby Seale, insisted on a Black nationalist response to racial discrimination. When Brad Lomax helped found the Black Panther Party’s Washington chapter in 1969, he had already been told that he had multiple sclerosis. He used a wheelchair but that didn’t stop him from joining a revolution that would help improve the lives of Black people in America.
After helping to start the Washington chapter of the Panthers, Lomax then helped organized the first African Liberation Day demonstration in 1972 which saw tens of thousands of African Americans gathering in Washington, D.C. to show solidarity with the liberation struggles of African nations.
The following year, Lomax moved to Oakland, California but faced obstacles there with the transport system. Anytime he had to enter a bus, his brother Glenn had to carry him out of the wheelchair and place him in a seat before going back for the wheelchair. Lomax started recognizing the need for more disability services owing to the difficulties he faced as a disabled person.
So in 1977, he helped lead over 100 people in occupying the fourth-floor offices of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the San Francisco Federal Building. Known as the historic 504 Sit-in, the demonstration was to force the government to implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which had been ignored.
Section 504 would change the lives of people living with disabilities by “prohibiting recipients of federal aid from discriminating against any otherwise qualified individuals with a disability,” The New York Times reported.
The demonstration lasted for almost a month. Lomax was successful in getting his fellow Black Panthers to bring hot meals and other materials demonstrators might need in the building daily.
Corbett O’Toole, who was part of the protest, described how key Lomax was in the protest:
“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.”
Lomax, born Bradford Clyde Lomax, on September 13, 1950, in Philadelphia, was the eldest of three siblings. His parents were Katie Lee Lomax and Joseph Randolph Lomax, a World War II veteran and electrician. Lomax played football and joined drama clubs growing up. In his teens when he visited his mother’s family in Alabama during the civil rights movement, he saw for the first time signs indicating that some public spaces were for White people and others for Black people.
He never forgot those signs as he grew up and sought to change the system. In 1968, he graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia and went on to attend Howard University in Washington. During this period, he started falling as he walked, as stated by The New York Times. Not too long after, he was told he had multiple sclerosis. As he began using the wheelchair, he came face to face with the challenges of the disabled in society, in terms of education, jobs and housing.
When he moved to Oakland, he 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. The East Oakland CIL opened in a storefront, giving basic peer counseling and attendant referral, according to Lead On Network.
At the time, the Black Panther Party did not have any major disability policy. Lomax got the party interested in disability advocacy. And it supported the 504 Sit-in that saw Lomax later being selected as a member of the contingent that took the disability message to Washington, DC.
Officials signed the 504 regulations on April 28, 1977, paving the way for the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990.
Lomax carried on with his work with the Panthers after the 504 demonstration. He was hoping to do more for his fellow Black Americans but his condition didn’t help. Lomax died of multiple sclerosis in Sacramento on August 28, 1984 at the age of 33.
This content was originally published here.