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Radical Woman of the Day: Celestine Tate Harrington

On this day in 1998 Celestine Tate Harrington, quadriplegic street performer, died as a result of head injuries she received from two colliding cars that struck her motorized gurney. Born in 1956 with Arthrogryposis multiplex, which caused all four of her limbs to be underdeveloped, she had taken music classes for the disabled at Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School and learned to play a portable keyboard with her tongue so she could earn her living through audience donations.

In 1975 Harrington (then Celestine Tate) gave birth to a daughter, Niya, whose father was not present for her birth and died before he could marry her mother. When a social worker recommended Niya’s removal from Harrington’s care, Harrington demonstrated in a custody hearing how she could dress and undress Niya using only her lips, teeth, and tongue. She received joint custody with her grandparents, who had raised Harrington herself. Two years later, she was able to obtain sole custody, and she moved out of her grandparents’ home. She later gave birth to another daughter, Coronda.

Although she received frequent fines for performing and panhandling without a permit, Harrington’s street performances enabled her to earn a living without public assistance and even send her two daughters to college. In 1991 she married Roy Harrington, a casino employee, and in 1996 she published her autobiography, Some Crawl and Never Walk.