There are a number of historically significant anniversaries in 2012. This year marks the the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the sesquicentennial of the Homestead Act, and the centennial of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Although there are many other noteworthy anniversaries, two watershed events in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans and people with disabilities come to mind.
- Fifty years ago, in 1962, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black ordered the immediate admittance of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. Mississippi’s governor, Ross Barnett, attempted to bar Meredith’s entry. President Kennedy, however, federalized the National Guard, which then forced his admittance.
- Thirty-five years ago, in 1977, the Section 504 demonstration at the San Francisco Regional Office of HEW proved to be a watershed event for the civil rights of people with disabilities.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 adaptive the concept of reasonable accommodation that was originally applied to religious practices was applied to people with disabilities. 504 established and still provides for accommodations in all programs receiving federal funds (education, transportation, arts programs, health care).
This landmark legislation was passed in 1973 but was not being enforced because the implementing regulations were held up in Heath, Education and Welfare. The disability community became increasingly frustrated and on April 5, 1977, roughly 600 people assembled at the San Francisco regional office of United Stated Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
The protest in San Francisco became the longest occupation of a Federal building in U.S. history. After 28 days, Section 504 was signed which was a great victory.
CBS Evening News 504 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbfNJpFni-E
(This video is from a show called “Instant Recall” which aired in the late eighties, and which used footage from the CBS Evening News.)
The Power of 504 part 1
The Power of 504 part 2
(The Power of 504 Part 1 & 2 form an award-winning 18-minute documentary video, which captures the drama and emotions of the historic civil rights demonstration of people with disabilities in 1977, resulting in the signing of the 504 Regulations, the first Federal Civil Rights Law protecting people with disabilities. The documentary includes contemporary news footage and news interviews with participants and demonstration leaders. It is available in open caption, audio descriptive and standard formats.)
- saluting James Meredith, a Republican civil rights activist