Harriet McBryde Johnson passed away on June 3, 2008, at the age of 50. She was well-loved by people in many different communities: her beloved hometown of Charleston, South Carolina; the national and global disability rights movement; and her readers far and wide.

Harriet’s death leaves a big hole in the world, but her life had a profound and positive impact that will not end with her death. Those of us who loved her are in pain, but we find comfort in the company of others whom Harriet touched. That’s why we created this website. Here you can share memories, photos, and links to Harriet’s web-published writings.

Thanks to Carrie Lucas for volunteering to design this site.

7 Responses to “Remembering Harriet”
  1. Terri O'Hare says:

    I have never cried like this over the loss of a woman I didn’t get to meet.

    Three things, with my heart aching. (This can’t be!)

    1. I had emailed Harriet the 23rd of May asking for her opinion of a trend I’d noticed, of disability/gimps/crips in the media-everywhere lately. A ‘Disability Zeitgeist’ so to speak, I was going to present on this in a conference. She replied in a typical, eye and mind opening way:

    I actually give quite a lot of credit to two people who continued with
    very responsible jobs with Parkinson’s: first, Janet Reno, then, Pope John
    Paul II.

    Both of the strong and controversial characters were in positions to decide
    for themselves to continue working. Once they made that decision, they had
    a host of formal structural supporters in line to validate it. It was the
    first time I could remember reasonable discussions about the expected
    course of the disease, what functions are limited and which are not, and
    the nature of the job in question. The case of the Pope was particularly
    dramatic because the whole world was privy to the ultimate decline all the
    way to death and was made to realize that an extraordinarily impaired
    person could remain active.

    Presumably, these high-profile individuals made their decisions with advice
    from various professionals who have internalized what the movement teaches
    about accommodation and adaptation. The discussion has changed because the
    world has changed.

    There’s a great deal more to say, but maybe the above can be food for
    thought. H

    2. We die way too soon. We = you know who.
    Us folks with bodies that can be goddamned landmines and tropical, juicy forests of experience.

    3. Harriet was the only writer in our movement I could change the minds of others with on Schiavo. On Singer. I would forward her Salon & NYTimes articles to hard-ass investigative reporter friends who are published in the Nation and on Democracy Now!-and they’d read her, and reply, “Wow, I see what you mean.”

    She was the absolute best.

    I can’t do any broad, humanistic gestures tonight. A woman I loved, yet never met is gone and she taught me so much. So much.

    Thank you Harriet–sister–compadre

    -Terri

  2. At the kickoff meeting of the MediaTalk at a memorable meeting called the “May Media Meeting” I came into the Disability Rights Movement (DRM) because of a glance from Harriet and our subsequent connection was the kind of profound that left me crying uncontrollably on the morning I read of on the list of her passing.

    At the “Disability Summit” in Charleston we communed closely and continued our emailing and list-responding in ways that made it clear just how far things like this site and all the blogs/wikis/sites that have tied us into a family have changed things for this community.

    She was the age of my children and my idol/inspiration. Her memory/writing are burned in my soul/heart.

    I won’t “miss” her because she’s tattooed on my brain.

    Love.

  3. Aaron David Frishberg says:

    I am proud to say that Harriet had made me a friend, though gawd knows that is no rarity, because Harriet was someone who came to know people easily, and embraced our common humanity. Really, though, I must have come in some special category, because I learned of Harriet’s death from Susan Baum.
    If you read Too Late to Die Young, you will remember that there is a character named Susan, and that Harriet matter-of-factly told us that she does what Susan tells her to, because she knows it will be right. When I returned a call from Harriet’s office on Wednesday afternoon, June 4, it was Susan who spoke with me, and explained that calls were being placed so we wouldn’t learn of Harriet’s death by reading about it in the paper, or some such. And when I asked, she confirmed that, yes, she was that Susan. Susan told me that Harriet had worked a full day on June 3, and then rolled home, to die before the next day. And of course, that is the death she would have chosen.
    Earlier this year, Harriet had sent a letter to her friends around everywhere, contemplating what it meant that she was “L.” Of course, despite her realization when she got to college, it was not too late, and Harriet did die young. To say I will miss her is so gross an understatement I can’t find the words to say what it really should be. Can I say, it was an honor and a privilege to work with Harriet in reviving and building the National Lawyers Guild Disability Rights Committee, along with Brian Stanford, Cordelia Martinez, Brian East, and Marilynn Mika Spenser, joined by Cordelia Martinez, Henry Feldman, and the rest of you, finally, too numerous to mention? You know who you are.
    But this isn’t about the Disability Rights Committee, or even about the special friendship we developed, as the self-appointed Bull Goose Looney of the Disability Rights Committee (me), and the Treasurer and first wheelchaired person, Harriet, before she recruited RadRobin, and power chair took on a whole new meaning.
    It is about Harriet, and what I can share with all of you who knew her, and can never forget her rich laugh, that sounded like a prolonged hiccough, her shy sweet smile, her tender way of correcting you (me) and moving on in friendship.
    And of course, since she took it with her to the grave, I can’t tell in public the story of the secret identity of her Valentine. But I promise at the next Guild convention to tell those of you who gather the amazing nearly true tale from a life of her Valentine’s memorial, which she told me on a long-distance phone call one Sunday morning.
    Meanwhile, that wonderful Harriet story, one from a million dozen flashes of my memory. This one, too, at a Guild convention, the one in Southern Arizona that she left on a stretcher to the local hospital, sister Beth at her side, not smiling at all as our eyes met. Death was inevitable, Harriet taught, but was it going to be this way, her nightmare, in a strange hospital? Fortunately, not even a close call, and that was 2001, so another almost seven years remained.
    But that gentle, and wondrous sense of humor. We were doing an early a.m. workshop, on Institutions, and going around the small room. It was just before or just after my wife Nancy explained who she was, and that she was there to support her local crazy. I talked briefly about my raging days in psychiatric hospitals, and said I’d been Hell on Wheels. No, Harriet piped up. You’re not Hell on Wheels, you’re Hell on Feet. I’m Hell on Wheels.
    Harriet never believed in a Hell or Heaven, and I don’t say she is looking down on us and smiling. I say she imbued us all with the spirit of the life she lived, and the miles we won’t have to travel again, because Harriet blazed those trails indelibly with her life, in the Disability Liberation movement.
    To return to the marvelous friend I feel I made yesterday over the phone in the worst imaginable circumstances, I said to Susan Baum that if I needed further reason to remain an atheist, I had it in the impossibility of a god who would take Harriet McBryde Johnson and leave George W. Bush. And because she is still That Susan, she corrected me, that it shows we still have work to do.
    So, amidst the tears, I ask that you lift your glass, or suck on your straw with me, and join in the Toast that embodies the memory our beloved lost and gone Harriet: “To Work.”

    Love and solidarity to you all,
    Aaron

  4. Aaron David Frishberg says:

    Whoops, Cordy. I put your name twice, because I didn’t edit well, and wasn’t sure if you were at that critical mass last Detroit convention where we got it together, finally, after years of me and Brian Stanford trying to convene meetings at conventions. Imperfection marces on.

  5. Eleanor Smith says:

    I am among the hundreds of people who feel stricken at Harriet’s death. Reading these posts, nearly every one resonates. Reading Narriet’s writing over the years, listening to her speak, I could almost literally feel my mind enlarging, spirit rising, as she sent rays of over the big picture, often via the small corners. Emtoionally, I have lost one of my protectors. She was literally helping to protect our lives. In the days when Terri S. was being starved and dehydrated with the approval of most of the courntry, I went to my Harriet files repeatedly to steady my sanity. Her writing and her voice will continue to do this work and help others continue.

  6. I found out today from a blog that Harriet had died. I knew Harriet only through her writing: I stumbled across the Disability Gulag essay a few years ago, and was so struck by it that I immediately looked up the author to see what else she might have written. I read her book when it came out because I enjoyed her essays so much. I’m terribly sad to hear she’s gone, for the purely selfish reason that I hoped for many more years of occasional stories and essays: she was smart, funny, snarky, and eloquent, with a unique perspective. I wish I could have met her. My condolences to her friends and family.

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