No longer overlooked: Brad Lomax, a bridge between civil rights movements

Alabama in 1963 was an epicenter of the civil rights movement, with lunch counter sit-ins, protest marches, and other actions aimed at dismantling state-sponsored segregation. It was there that Brad first encountered signs designating some public areas for whites and others for blacks.

After graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia in 1968, Lomax considered joining the military, but with the war in Vietnam raging and black soldiers bearing a disproportionate share of the burden, he instead chose to attend Howard University in Washington visit.

That year, Lomax—inexplicably, it seemed—began to fall while walking. Then he found out he had multiple sclerosis. As the disease progressed, he began using a wheelchair – and it opened his eyes to another form of discrimination. Wheelchairs designed to provide independence are of little use in gaining access to public buildings without ramps. He saw that people with disabilities were regularly denied an education and that there were few services to help them find housing or jobs, especially if they were black.

After moving to Oakland, he became acquainted with the Center for Independent Living, an organization founded by people with disabilities that was instrumental in cutting curbs for wheelchairs on street corners in San Francisco and near Berkeley . In 1975, he approached director Ed Roberts and suggested that the center join efforts with the Black Panthers to provide assistance to disabled people in East Oakland’s predominantly black community.

The relationships he forged between the two communities would prove crucial two years later during the 504 sit-in.

The Department of Health, Education and Human Services had been tasked with writing the regulations implementing Section 504, which was intended to be a model for other federal agencies. But the regulations were never enacted under President Gerald R. Ford because of opposition from business and government interests who feared the cost of providing access to education, employment, health care, and public buildings.

In his 1976 presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter promised to move the regulations forward, but after taking office, his new HEW secretary, Joseph A. Califano Jr., said the rules needed revision before he would sign them.

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