In honor of Black History Month we would like to highlight Black leaders in the disability rights movement. Today we celebrate Johnnie Lacy, one of the earliest civil rights activists to advocate for the right of people with disabilities to live independently.
Johnnie Lacy was born in 1937 in Huttig, Arkansas. She experienced adversity from an early age by growing up in the segregated school system and suffering both racial and gender discrimination in Arkansas, Louisiana, and California. At age 19, while studying for a nursing degree at San Francisco State University, Lacy was diagnosed with Polio. The disease resulted in significant paralysis but it did not stop her from wanting to return to school. However, she was denied entry into the program due to her disability.
She would not stop fighting. Lacy went on to graduate from UC Berkeley where she was inspired to join the growing civil rights and disability rights movement. She refused to be silenced.
Johnnie Lacy became the first executive director of The Community Resources for Independent Living in Hayward, California. She helped found the Berkeley Center for Independent Living in 1981. She served on the state Attorney General’s Commission on Disability and the Mayor’s Disability Council of San Francisco.
Even after her retirement, Johnnie continued her activism and served on the Hayward city and community commissions, as well as the Commission on Personnel and Affirmative Action.
Johnnie Lacy passed away in 2010. She is remembered as a fearless champion for civil and disability rights including the important mission of independent living. During a time when being a black disabled woman meant constant discrimination, Lacy became the hero that her community needed. Her legacy lives on through the black disabled activists of 2023 that continue to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion of all individuals.