Skip to main content

Harriet McBryde Johnson papers

 Collection
Identifier: Mss 0156

Collection Overview

The collection consists of the papers of Harriet McBryde Johnson from 1971 to 2010 and document Johnson's disability rights advocacy and activism, her career as an author and an attorney, and her participation in Charleston city and county politics. The collection includes writings, working files, awards, memorials and tributes, photographs, and audiovisual materials. Writings include Johnson's typescript for her young adult novel Accidents of Nature, and published short stories, memoir excerpts, profiles, interviews, and articles for various disability press, legal, and newspaper periodicals on such topics as living with a disability, disability advocacy and civil rights, and accessibility issues. A large portion of the collection is made up of Johnson's working files comprised of correspondence, faxes, clippings, photocopies, printed materials, handwritten notes, and other ephemera relating to her accessibility lawsuit against the Ashley Hall Foundation, her political activities as the City Party Chair and Secretary of the City of Charleston Democratic Party, her county council campaign, and her annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon demonstrations, including protest signage and a "Dump Jerry Lewis" button. Her working files also contain correspondence between Johnson and Joseph P. Riley, Strom Thurman, and Ernest F. Hollings regarding accessibility issues in downtown Charleston and her support or opposition to various bills and political nominations as well as other assorted professional correspondence, requests for article contributions for local and national journals and newspapers, and thank you letters and notes. Also included are files relating to Johnson's literary career, including speech notes, fan mail, and publicity materials, and scattered legal files. The arrangement scheme for Johnson's working files was imposed during processing. There are also diplomas, awards, and recogntions awarded to Johnson including her college diplomas from the Charleston Southern University and the University of South Carolina, certificates of appreciation, a city resolution for Harriet McBryde Johnson day, and Senate and House resolutions passed on her death. Also included are memorial materials and audiovisual materials including radio interviews on the topic of living with a disability and her memoir as well as videocassette recordings of her county council campaign commercial, professional training workshops, speeches, and conference presentations.

Dates

  • 1971-2010

Creator

Language of Material

Materials in English

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

The nature of the College of Charleston's archival holdings means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. Special Collections claims only physical ownership of most archival materials.

The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Biographical Note

Harriet McBryde Johnson (1957-2008) was a disability rights advocate and activist, attorney, and author. Disabled due to a congenital neuromuscular diease, she earned a B.S. in history from the Charleston Southern University in 1978, a Master's in Public Administration from the College of Charleston in 1981, and a law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1985. Shortly after graduating from the University of South Carolina she went into private practice, focusing on benefits and civil rights claims for poor and working people with disabilites. In 2002 she came to prominence after debating Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, concerning his views on disability-based infanticide. The encounter was chronicled in her New York Times Magazine cover story "Unspeakable Conversations or How I Spent One Day as a Token Cripple at Princeton University." She also drew national attention for her public protests of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. Prompted by Lewis' "If I Had Muscular Dystrophy" article for Parade Magazine in which he referred to disabled children as "half persons," Johnson criticized the telethons "pity-based tactics" and "charity mentality" and protested the telethon for nearly twenty years. She also wrote numerous articles for various disability press and legal and newspaper periodicals, and was the author of two books, a memoir, Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life, published in 2005, and the young adult novel, Accidents of Nature, published in 2006. Politically active Johnson served in the City of Charelston Democratic Party for eleven years, first as secretary, then as chair. She was also a County Council candidate in 1994 and a national convention delegate in 1996. In additon she was a member of the board of directors of Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilites and served on the steering committee of the National Lawyer's Guild.

Extent

6.0 linear feet (6 cartons, 1 oversize paper folder, 5 audiocassettes, 4 CDs, 5 videocassettes)

Abstract

Writings, working files, diplomas, awards, recognitions, memorials, and audiovisual materials of Harriet McBryde Johnson. Materials document Johnson's disability and civil rights advocacy and activism, her career as an author and an attorney, and her participation in Charleston city and county politics. Disabled due to a congenital degenerative neuromuscular disease she came to prominence after debating Peter Singer concerning his views on disability-based infanticide and for her annual public demonstrations of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon. As an author Johnson published two books, a memoir, Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life, and a young adult novel, Accidents of Nature, as well as numerous articles for various disability press, newspaper, and legal periodicals on such topics as living with a disability, disability and civil rights advocacy, and accessibility issues.

Collection Arrangement

  1. Writings, 1971-2008, undated
  2. Working files, 1971-2008, undated
  3. Diplomas, awards, and recognition, 1985-2008
  4. Memorials, 2008, 2010
  5. Audiovisual materials, 1992-2010, undated

Acquisitions Information

Materials were donated in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2014 by Elizabeth Johnson.

Processing Information

Processed by Joshua Minor, December 2014.

Creator

Source

Title
Inventory of the Harriet McBryde Johnson Papers, 1971-2010
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by: Joshua Minor; machine-readable finding aid created by: Joshua Minor
Date
2014
Description rules
DACS
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Special Collections
College of Charleston Libraries
66 George Street
Charleston South Carolina 29424
(843) 953-8016
(843) 953-6319 (Fax)