Former Contra Costa College professor and well-known Native American activist Lehman L. Brightman died Sunday at age 87 at Kaiser Hospital in Walnut Creek, according to a detailed article about his life in the East Bay Times.
Brightman was a 6-foot-6-inch tall Sioux tribe member who was born on a reservation in South Dakota, played running back at the school now known as Oklahoma State University and served in the Marines during the Korean War, according to the Times.
He earned a master’s degree at UC Berkeley and taught at Contra Costa College from 1974 to 2006. He was also founder in 1968 of the United Native Americans Inc. (UNA), an organization “promoting progress and the general welfare of American Indians,” according to a UNA biography. Through the organization, he testified at U.S. Senate hearings on poor conditions at Indian boarding schools and at three hospitals.
At UC Berkeley, Brightman established the United States’ first Native American studies program. He was an editor of the first International newspaper, Warpath, and was involved in an occupation of Alcatraz (1969), the takeover of Wounded Knee (1973) and the occupation of Mt. Rushmore (1970), among other civil rights activities.
He was also known for not holding back as a CCC history professor.
“The professor brought to the classroom his own brand of history, a blender full of humble beginnings, activism and disdain for authority,” according to the East Bay Times.
Brightman’s death followed a string of tragedies for the family. Two of his three sons passed away in 2015. Lakota Brightman, 45, was fatally stabbed in Richmond, and his brother Lehman Leonard Brightman III was struck and killed by an Amtrak train in the city.
Brightman is survived by a third son, Quanah Brightman.
“The World Lost a True Hero and Patriot,” Quanah wrote on Facebook. “Rest in Eternal Peace My Father Dr. Lehman L. Brightman.”