Professor remembered

By Roxana Amparo, Associate Editor

Special To / The Advocate
Lehman L. Brightman, a longtime East Bay resident, Contra Costa College
professor and Native American activist, died Sunday, May 18, 2017 at Kaiser
Hospital in Walnut Creek.

Proud Sioux tribe member, social rights activist and former Contra Costa College history professor, Lehman L. Brightman, died on June 18 in Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek at the age of 87.

Brightman was born and raised in the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in South Dakota in 1930.

Standing at about 6 foot 6, he played football and ran track for Oklahoma A&M, which is now Oklahoma State University.

Before setting out to earn a Master’s degree at UC Berkeley, and ultimately create CCC’s Native American studies department 1974, Brightman served as a marine in the Korean War.

After serving in the military he became heavily involved in various civil right groups and demonstrations as a UC Berkeley student and professor.

While Brightman taught at UC Berkeley in the late 1960s he established the United Native Americans, a nonprofit supporting the progress and welfare of Indians.

He also established the nation’s first ethnic studies program at UC Berkeley in 1969 that focused on Native American history and political influence.

He became a leader among Native American activist in the Bay Area, and in 1973 he led the takeover of Alcatraz Island.

This was two years after Brightman helped Native American leader Dennis Banks occupy Mount Rushmore with a group of about 50 Native Americans.

The event that made newslines nearly earned Brightman five years in prison, but the authorities dropped the charges.

In 1975, Brightman invited one of America’s most wanted, at the time, Native American leader Dennis Banks into the warmth of his home to keep him from being arrested.

Banks failed to go to a court hearing and was charged with starting a riot and assaulting a police officer during a protest in Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

In the 1960s and early 70s, the Sioux and Creek Indian fought in the front lines of the battle for Native American civil rights.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at University of Oklahoma, he earned a master’s degree at UC Berkeley.

He also served in the Korean war for a year, where he was wounded in combat.

Brightman, father of three: Lehman Jr., Gall and Quanah, is remembered for his use of, “colorful,” language while teaching in the East Bay.

In a retirement piece written about Brightman by an Advocate staffer in 2006, Brightman said, “Some students complained, so I announced in my classes I’d quit cussing.”

Former CCC fine arts and media professor John Diestler said, “Brightman was among several professors over the years that made an impact in many ways.”

Brightman’s passion for Native American’s rights spilled over into his daily lessons.

Former CCC student Crystal Legarte took Brightman’s history class in 2001.

Legarte said she remembers listening to his stories about activism.

“He was very outspoken and would share his stories,” she said. “During his office hours he was very warming with his students. It was because he loved teaching.”

After 32 years of teaching at CCC Brightman retired in 2006.

In an interview with an Advocate reporter, at the age of 69, Brightman said, “I used to enjoy what I did, which was raise hell in those days.”

He also said while at CCC he met a lot of, “beautiful people,” and enjoyed his career.

Diestler said Brightman’s style of teaching, rhetoric and personality left an imprint on everyone he interacted with.

“Even if you didn’t care for his politics you really saw how history impacted an individual and how an individual impacted a decade of people,” Diestler said.

“He deserved the accolade that he has gotten. People who know him can nod and say that he did indeed swear a lot.”