(back) (next) (contents)

The Braille Monitor,  June 2001 EditionThis is a line.

A Tribute to Kenneth Jernigan

by Jacobus tenBroek

Dr. Jernigan shows the Iowa Commission for the Blind's blueprints to Dr. tenBroek.
Dr. Jernigan shows the Iowa Commission for the Blindís blueprints to Dr. tenBroek.

†††††††From the Editor: In April of 1958 Kenneth Jernigan was preparing to assume his new responsibilities as Director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. He was leaving California, where he had been a member of the faculty of the Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland for some six years. He had almost single-handedly built a thriving chapter in the Bay Area, and he had made dozens, perhaps hundreds, of friends across the state. Federationists organized a dinner gathering and evening of tributes to Dr. Jernigan. One of the first speakers was then NFB President Jacobus tenBroek. His speech, which we have only recently rediscovered, exhibits the wit, intelligence, and focus that characterized his leadership of the National Federation of the Blind. In the course of his remarks he mentioned the Kennedy-Baring Bill, which would have guaranteed the right of blind people to take part in consumer organizations. In fact the bill was never passed, but the amount of Congressional support it attracted eventually had the effect of protecting the right of agency employees from reprisals for daring to affiliate themselves with the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. tenBroek began his remarks with a response to the introduction he was given in which the mistress of ceremonies suggested that he might at some time have been accused of slinging mud and alluded to the fact that the tenBroek yard was for an unexplained reason currently filled with mud that the children had been playing in. This is what Dr. tenBroek said:

††††††I deny everything you say. There is nothing in my background or activities which should suggest to anybody that I know how to sling mud. There is something in my background, however, which makes it a very pleasurable occasion for me to be here tonight. Amid the numerous other activities of life, I'm frequently unable to get together with my friends and colleagues, old roommates and classmates, teachers, and so on in California; but a good many of them are here tonight; and that gives me a great deal of pleasure. Dr. Perry, of course, the venerable peer of us all, the founder of the California Council and much of the social legislation in this state and the principles upon which we all seek to organize programs for the blind. Not only in that capacity do I respect him and bring him my homage, but also as unquestionably the most effective of all teachers I ever had. I'm not sure that he ever taught me anything that I could repeat now. That doesn't have anything to say about his capacity as a pedagogue. He is peerless in that respect also, but what I learned from him primarily, I think, was an attitude towards life and certainly an attitude towards blindness that has been the foundation really of almost every step I take in connection with problems of the blind.

††††††Here also tonight is my old buddy Bob Campbell. Among the youngsters at the orientation center there will be those not old enough to know that Bob was once a young fellow. When he was, I was also a young fellow. It's that long ago. We were indeed buddies at the state school for the blind. When Dr. [Perry] wasn't distracting us from our pleasures, we frequently engaged in them together. I could tell you enough to ruin Bob Campbell. The unfortunate thing is that I would have to ruin myself in doing so.

††††††Here tonight also are that next generation downward, people like Al Jenkins, who as a former student of mine could tell enough about me without endangering himself. Certainly in that same class would come Russ Kletzing--two young, very brilliant, able people who are doing remarkably good jobs in their various fields and contributing at the same time immeasurably to the advancement of our cause.

†††††††With us here tonight also are some newer friends of the blind of California, Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Skinner of the Skinner Foundation. I don't know that any of us know enough about them to be able to ruin them, but we know enough about them to be able to talk about their relationship to us, which certainly must be a glowing account of their intelligent operation of a foundation which contributes immeasurably to the ease and facility with which blind people can get along through higher educational institutions in this state and advance themselves towards their futures of employment and contribution.

†††††††Among all these people, of course, there is none quite like Ken Jernigan. Well, as we are going to have to say some things about him pretty soon, I want to put this in a context which will most fully talk about his qualities and contributions. I can see no better way to do that than to begin by a quotation from that very estimable sheet--some might call it a rag--known as the New Outlook for the Blind. [now the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, published by the American Foundation for the Blind] A recent correspondent of mine called it the New Outrage:

      "Let him who decries custodialism and who champions the cause of blind people remember that the client become social worker (or agency administrator), and the social worker become client would on the average, because he is human, ultimately revert to the attitude inherent in his situation. Therefore to transpose their roles would not provide the solution."

†††††††These are the words of Editor Liechty of the New Outlook, which, as you all know, is the house organ of the American Foundation for the Blind, which in the March [1958] issue has openly abandoned its pretense of above-the-battle neutrality and has unleashed a carefully prepared, all-out attack upon the Kennedy-Baring bill. . . . What is it that is inherent in his situation? What is there about the situation of the agency worker and the blind individual which is so fundamental that it would not avail anything to transpose their roles? What is there in the respective situations which is so dominant that it transcends all individuality and reshapes and controls the attitudes of those who occupy it? What are the attitudes impelled by the situation? The Outlook editor does not say with respect to most of this area, but he does insofar as the agencies are concerned. Here is what he says: "The custodial, paternalistic tendency in services to the blind is to an extent an inherent natural concomitant of any program in which society provides a service for its minority of less favored members. The problem of custodialism and paternalism (continues the editor) has been reduced to the extent that its inherent nature permits by those of society's agencies which are in the forefront of progress."

††††††No one surely could speak any plainer than that. With one sweep of the editorial pen, the blind are forever segregated from the rest of society by virtue of a difference which is irremovable. Moreover, it is not only the difference which is irremovable, but the paternalistic, custodial attitude itself. The candor of this confession is breathtaking. Its unreserved straightforwardness is a thing of admiration. But it is, of course, wholly false at every turn and juncture of its tortuous path--false in its imputation of inferiority to the blind, false in its depiction of an undefined difference which is more than physical, false in its ruthless division of the population into the opposed categories of minority and the rest of society, false in its damning attribution of the custodial, paternalistic attitude of all who work with the blind, false finally in its appeal to a nonexistent substratum of unalterable human nature.

††††††The next paragraph of the editorial carries with it an interesting argument going a step farther:

      "Condemning custodialism (writes the editor) as a sin of individual agencies for the blind is both unjust and un-realistic." Note that the editor, however, does not say that it is untrue. Now the self-indictment has deepened a notch. Custodialism admittedly exists, and, what is more, it is a sin, according to the editor. "But it would be unfair to imply that agency workers are the only sinners." Of course Federation spokesmen have never implied that there are no sinners outside of the agencies as well as within, nor have they asserted that all individuals in the agencies are sinning custodialists.

†††††††Here is the crucial difference in viewpoint. Editor Liechty, speaking in the house organ of the American Foundation, remember, believes that all agency people are by definition afflicted with the disease of custodialism. I believe that a great many such people have succeeded in avoiding the infection and that still others of them have found a cure. As a result I want here and now to stand up against this unjustified attack against all agencies for the blind. I want to say once more, as I have often said, that there are agencies that do not display the custodial, paternalistic attitude. I want to insist that there are good agencies and good agency people.

††††††Now all of this has a direct connection with the occasion that has brought us here tonight to honor and celebrate the appointment of Ken Jernigan to be director of the Commission for the Blind in Iowa. Few of those who are here and indeed few members of the Federation anywhere need to be told of the character of Ken and the quality of his contribution to the organization. Since his entrance into the movement nearly a decade ago and especially since his election to the NFB Board of Directors in 1952, no one of us has labored more unstintingly or battled more courageously for the advancement of our common cause.

†††††† I might recount a few of the highlights of his career as a Federation leader. He is first of all the only member who has served on all three of the NFB survey teams, those teams which canvassed the state programs for the blind of Colorado and Arkansas in 1955 and Nevada in 1956 at the request of their respective governors and which set in motion a chain of reactions of liberalization and reform whose effect will be felt for years to come.

†††††† Ken was also the chairman of two of our most successful National Conventions, those of Nashville in 1952 and San Francisco in 1956. He has given selflessly of his time and inexhaustible energy to cross and recross the country in the interest of Federation unity, harmony, and democracy; and he has performed miracles of diplomacy and arbitration in situations which might best be described as peacemaker, problem-solver, and troubleshooter.

†††††††More lastingly important than this is his consistent contribution to the overall leadership, expansion, and sustained course of the Federation. Much of Ken's most valuable contribution has been carried on behind the scene. It is not widely known that he is the author of those indispensable guidebooks known as "What Is the National Federation of the Blind?" and "Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?" He is the author of many of the Federation documents that have gone un-bylined. He has represented the NFB informally as well as formally at numerous outside conventions and gatherings throughout the country.

†††††††His speeches and reports on the floor of the National Convention year by year and convention by convention have been outstanding events. One of these in particular requires special mention, his address before the 1957 convention on programs for local chapters of the Federation. Few statements have more correctly portrayed and deeply instilled the conception of the Federation--made up as it is of local clubs, state affiliates, conventions, officers, and headquarters, as a single, unified entity, each part of which is the concern, the responsibility, and the local benefit of every individual member. By popular demand this analysis has been Brailled, mimeographed, taped, and distributed to Federationists throughout the length and breadth of the land.

†††††† His 1955 study on "The Employment of the Blind in the Teaching Profession," carried out for the California Council of the Blind, has been widely distributed across the country and is making its contribution to the successful campaign to break down the barriers to the hiring of blind teachers in the public schools. In fact, there is scarcely any national movement which has not benefited from the devotion, the time, and the talent which Ken has lavished upon it.

†††††††Will this outstanding Federationist cease to be a Federationist when he becomes director of the Commission for the Blind in Iowa? Contrariwise, when, as director of the Commission for the Blind in Iowa, he participates in the Federation, will he be an agency agent within the walls? Will the NFB give orders to Jernigan the administrator? Or, alternatively, will Jernigan the administrator change his role in the Federation? If we accept Editor Liechty's theory, the answer is clear and the picture is dismal.

†††††† However, as I have attempted to say, just to pose these questions at all presupposes some basic fallacies: they presuppose that the organized blind are on one side of the line and the agencies are on the other. They presuppose that the function of the agencies is to rule and that of the blind is to obey. They presuppose that the agencies are (as they say) professional and that the blind are unprofessional, that the agencies know what is best for the blind and the blind should accept it without question, that the agencies are custodians and caretakers and the blind are wards and charitable beneficiaries, that the agencies are interpreters of the blind to the sighted community and that the blind are incapable of speaking for themselves, that the agencies exist because the blind are not full-fledged citizens with the right to compete for a home, a job, and to discharge the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. These are basic fallacies indeed.

†††††††The truth is that there is no disharmony, conflict, or incompatibility between the two posts. The basic truth is that the blind are citizens, that they are not wards, that they are capable of speaking for themselves, that they should and must be integrated into the governmental processes which evolve structure and administer programs bearing upon their welfare. The truth is that the agencies administering these programs, committed to the democratic view of clients as human beings and citizens and joining with them in the full expression of their capabilities, have a vital and a significant role to play.

†††††††There is thus no necessary matter of choosing between two masters moving in different directions. The common object can best be achieved through a close cooperation between the blind and the agencies serving them. The object cannot be achieved without that collaboration. Separate sources of authority, organizational patterns, and particular responsibilities do not necessarily and in this case do not properly entail conflicting commitments. Jernigan the Federation leader and Jernigan the director of programs in Iowa are therefore at one. We wish him well and great success.

(back) (next) (contents)