Since Slavery Black Disabled Separated from Black Community

Since Slavery Black Disabled Separated from Black Community

What did it mean when non-disabled slaves were set free?

Slavery ended in the US after the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865; however, disabled slaves were kept on plantations because slavery was connected to the ability to work.  Jim Downs, among other scholars, wrote an essay entitled, The Continuation of Slavery: The Experience of Disabled Slaves during Emancipation which lays out that disabled slaves were seen as non-workers, could not work therefore were kept on plantations to be "taking care of" but continue to work for their “masters”.

Did this separation of freedom of non-disabled compare to disabled set a standard or practice on how to treat disabled African Americans within and out of the Black community? How does this continued oppression of disabled African Americans show itself from the civil rights movement to the cultural art movements?

On February 6, 2017 the National Black Disability Coalition published my article on the 13th Amendment, the exclusion of people with developmental disabilities and its impact on today’s Black scholars when writing about Jim Crow, prisons, and the film industry to name a few topics.  I found that the 13th Amendment didn't apply and to me as a Black man with a developmental disability, as I read the below statement on that came from the article entitled: The Right to Self-Determination: Freedom from Involuntary Servitude (Employment).

 “Involuntary servitude,” or “peonage,” occurs when a person is forced to work against his or her will, with little or no control over working conditions. This work might be paid or unpaid.  The Thirteenth Amendment, (link is external) prohibiting slavery and outlawing involuntary servitude, was passed in 1865 shortly before the end of the Civil War. Unfortunately, this protection was not extended to people with developmental disabilities until nearly a century after the passage of the 13th Amendment."

I return to the original question: What does it mean when non-disabled slaves were set free, disabled slaves were kept on plantations after the ending of slavery after the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865. 
As we all know the forefathers who wrote the original constitution wasn’t thinking about Africans as equals and it showed in their writings so that is not surprising but what is surprising and produced a separation between African Americans with and without disabilities is how the mainstream perspective (mainly White) toward people with disabilities.  And how this early perspective on disabled people especially Black disabled people set the future experiences of Black disabled people in America.  This history has not only separated Black disabled people from their Black community as they moved from slavery, to Jim Crow, to Black Reconstruction, to the Blues era, to Black arts movement, to the Black civil rights movement, to police brutality, and to Hip-Hop but I argue this separation also created a subsection of the Black life experience in America that has only recently been uncovered and written about.

Although Black disabled people experience some of the same treatment of Black non-disabled people in many ways like lynching Emmitt Till and Jessie Washington but in other ways their disability disappeared in history as we tell these stories. Also, Black disabled people were separated from non-disabled Blacks like the segregated schools in the Jim Crow South. How many Black disabled people lived and worked in freak shows and circus separating them from family and the Black community.  In this history of separation came ways of surviving however, many times that meant exploiting or using their disability to make money or learning an art like singing, playing an instrument or even making things by hand and displaying their art, music and even body for public for donations.

I’m not arguing that this separation was a good thing and helped produced art and music but connecting how Black disabled people had to live and the deeper question for today is; are Black disabled and non-disabled people still separated? Does the commonality in experiencing almost the same oppression from police brutality to the school to prison pipeline impact us?  My answer is yes and no.  Yes, Black disabled people experience almost the same racist injustices as our fellow Black non-disabled brothers and sisters however; because of our disability the injustices are compounded.

We share these experiences bad and good in isolation or with other Black disabled people but not inside the Black community as a whole.

Although we have seen great strides in the disability rights movement and in the disability culture movement, yet there is still a lack of Black disabled programs within the Black community.  Even today Black parents must leave their community to receive services.  This continues the separation from the larger Black community resulting in the lack of knowledge and the involvement in the disability movements from rights to policies to arts and culture to creation of non-profits organizations to disability studies.  At the end of the day it leaves nondisabled Black folks always playing catch-up and not enjoying empowering ways of viewing disability.  We are you and you are us, let’s do Black History together.

Leroy F. Moore Jr.