In “Parting the Waters,” his history of the early civil-rights movement, Taylor Branch recounts how a teacher of Gandhian resistance, James Lawson, would tell his students not to curl passively into fetal balls when
segregationists came to beat them up. It only made them more brutal.
“This was a way to get livers kicked in and backs broken, he said, recommending that resisters try to maintain eye contact with those beating them.”
I thought of that when I learned of the death of Harriet McBryde Johnson, who looked at the world with an unflinching, sometimes withering, gaze. What many saw when they looked at her was a scrawny woman with a twisted spine who got around with a power wheelchair and lots of help. What she saw was a world that refused to make room for the severely disabled, one that looked at people like her — if it looked at them at all — with horror, hostility, condescension and pity, a sentiment she hated.
Photo description: a close-up of Harriet McBryde Johnson. She's leaning forward in her wheelchair. She's resting her chin in her right hand; her left arm is resting across her lap.