Black Disabled Ancestors by Leroy F. Moore Jr. is an important call to remember and live and thrive alongside our histories. His beautiful weaving of past and present disability justice activists and events requires readers to "let your ego, PhDs, and titles go" (p. 16) and fully listen, engage, and embrace the stories, visions, and living legacies of Black disabled ancestors. Black Disabled Ancestors emphasizes disability identity, culture, and solidarity through a holistic lens and expansive conception and connection of self and history. Throughout the book, Moore evokes intellectual and emotional responses through prose, narrative, poetry, and illustrations (by illustrator Ottis Smith). Black Disabled Ancestors centers Black disabled voices as pillars of strength, movement, and joy. Moore carries the reader on a journey of critical inquiry and celebration of Black disabled ancestors and how we can interact with their living legacies.
Moore begins with an account of Black disabled ancestors keeping him awake at night because they insist that their stories be told and that they may remain active in the systemic push for justice. Moore speaks from his personal experiences as a black disabled youth and the important role that knowing Black disabled history played in his identity development. Further, he relates his connection to history, particularly Black disabled history, as a driving force behind his life-long disability justice art and activism (he was a founding member of multiple intersectional disability activist organizations, including National Black Disability Coalition, Sins Invalid, and Krip Hop Nation). He reminds the reader that "there has been resistance and creativity of people with disabilities since the beginning of time, so we should write and speak about this resistance and creativity not only as part of our history but about how these stories can create peace and self-empowerment for our disabled youth" (p.7). Following this introductory chapter, Moore uses five stories to present the many ways that disability justice existed throughout history and the lessons that our Black disabled ancestors have to teach us about the expansive nature of solidarity and interdependence.
The five stories in Black Disabled Ancestors each feature Black disabled ancestors that appear with messages to teach and engage readers across historical and fictional space and time. In doing so, Black Disabled Ancestors explores an element of crip time that focuses on the liminal nature of our presence and the ever-evolving influence and relationship between the past, present, and future. Each story encompasses elements of the deep histories of oppression and activist movements of resistance and creativity. These counternarratives are imperative to interrupt anti- Blackness, ableism, and their intersections as deficit and damaged. Moore's illustration of disabled solidarity through the arts celebrates the historical and ongoing movements towards wholeness and interdependence.
Black Disabled Ancestors begins with "Story One: The Conversation Jim Crow and Porgy Come Back to Chop It Up? 'We are not fiction, we were reality, your present, & your future.'" In this story Samuel Smalls (Porgy) and Jim Cuff (Jim Crow), emblematic of identity theft, cultural appropriation, violence and erasure, are joined by all of the Black disabled people killed by Oakland Police Department. Porgy and Jim Crow reveal the ways that Whiteness institutionalizes the interwoven and coercive forces of racism and ableism. Counter to the stereotypes and oppressive policies that Porgy and Jim Crow represent, the story ends with a Black woman wheelchair user becoming mayor and a celebration with Krip Hop Nation and Sins Invalid.
"Story Two: Peg Leg Joe & Harriet Tubman Explain Race & Disability Relations During the Underground Railroad Years Compare to Today" carries Peg Leg Joe and Harriet Tubman's wisdom of cross-movement and cross-disability into the present. Peg Leg Joe is disgruntled that "Now today White disabled people think and act like they are almighty. Spewing their White privilege," and Harriet demands, "Throw away the master's shackles when it comes to disability" (p. 21). They discuss the ways that they were able to work together in solidarity across racial and disability boundaries. The story ends with a Black boy with a walker and White girl on crutches beatboxing and dancing together. The beauty of collective access and joy of the disabled body continues into "Story Three: Accessible Soul Train Don Cornelius With Soul Men On Crutches: Walter Jackson & Roberts Winters." In this Soul Train, there is great pride in disabled identity, body, and sexuality.
Next, "Story Four: Eleanor Bumpurs and Korryn Gaines Come Back to Talk About Black & Blue Left On Their Black Disabled Bodies By The Police" begins with WHIP by Deacon Burns, which lyrically exclaims the police manipulation, violence, and murder in Black communities. Eleanor Bumpurs and Korryn Gaines, two Black women with mental disabilities murdered by police, come to Times Square in New York with strength and grief. They explain that they're here to "guide you from above to deal with ableist, sexist, racist, and classist structures… Krip ladies it's time to take over!" (p. 33). It follows beautifully that the intersections of LGBTQIA+, disability, and socioeconomic status are included through public policy and artistic lyrics in "Story Five "The People's Budget Passes with Help by Barbara Jordan and Jazzie Collins."
Finally, Black Disabled Ancestors ends with short biographies of each of the featured Black disabled ancestors. While the biographies are very brief, they provide a beginning point for further investigation.
Throughout Black Disabled Ancestors, Moore beautifully illustrates the enactment of disability justice tenants (Sins Invalid, 2019). Intersectionality is the centerpiece of Black Disabled Ancestors, as each story explores individual and collective intersectional identities and the many ways that those intersections are experienced on personal and societal levels. The featured Black disabled ancestors are precisely the political, scholarly, and artistic leadership that we need in the present, the leadership of the most impacted. Anti-capitalist politic and cross-movement organizing are evident across the stories and play a critical role in the ways that we can take up these lessons in our own work. We can also look to the ways that Moore presents the arts as a space of wholeness and sustainability in the movement for justice. A commitment to cross-disability solidarity is present through the variety of disabilities represented and the ways that ancestors support one another. Finally, interdependence, collective access, and collective liberation are expressed through the Black disabled ancestors and those who join them across space and time.
This work is an essential piece of disability justice literature that contributes to K-12 and higher education curricula, as well as community and academic scholarship. In curricula, Black Disabled Scholars provides powerfully frank voice and proud representation to an intersection silenced in our classrooms. As academic scholars have a history of co-opting community activist work, Black Disabled Ancestors is an opportunity to read, study, and cite Moore and the Black disabled ancestors that he brings into life. With the 2020 backdrop of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, and our political and interpersonal division, the truths of Black Disabled Ancestors are all the more relevant. Black Disabled Ancestors is a call to unlearn our socialized and internalized oppressions, listen to and uplift Black disabled voices, and work towards collective liberation.
- Sins Invalid, (2019). Skin, Tooth, and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People (2nd ed.). Berkley, CA.