From the Editor: We recently unearthed a tape recording of a farewell dinner given in honor of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan in 1958 when he left California to become director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. The following little speech was given by Dr. Newell Perry, who was for many years a mathematics teacher at the California School for the Blind. He was Dr. tenBroek's mentor and the moving principle behind the founding of the California Council of the Blind, the spiritual foundation for and formative influence on the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Perry's words are very much of his time, and his age (eighty-six) is sometimes a conspicuous factor in his remarks, but the character and fire of the man shine through. This is what he said:
Ladies and gentlemen, friends: I am an old man. I have been totally blind a long time, and I've had a great deal of experience. There are a great many people who don't agree with me, but a few do, and I will speak a few words to this friend of oursthat's Mr. Jernigan.
Mr. Jernigan, you are going to be a very, very missed man. You have not been long with us, but you seem to have acquired the understanding of the blind, their capabilities, and so forth; and I have no doubt that you will be wonderfully successful in the work that you are going to adopt.
Of course there are a lot of things that you can do for the blind, but I think ninety-nine percent of your efforts should be devoted to getting jobs for the blind. Many people talk to the blind about everything except the one thing of getting a job. When I was a small kid, some of my friends, other boys--there was Cecil Smith, who later became an attorney, and myself. There was also a young girl named Labarock. We used to lie awake all night arguing with one another as to what a blind man could do. What do we do when we get through school? We didn't spend any time at all talking with sighted people. We learned very soon that they didn't have the slightest idea in the world what the blind people could do, so we forgot that. I haven't changed that [opinion] at all after eighty years.
I wish, Mr. Jernigan, that you could have trained blind peopleit's going to be very difficult to find them--who are intensely interested in getting jobs for the blind. If you find them not working hard, fire them. If they waste their time in any other way at all, tell them that you will have no further use for them. Let them go, and hunt for somebody else. If you will get jobs for blind people, the blind people will take care of the rest themselves and that will be the end of it. It's as simple as that.
Of course we have had a good many developments from the point of view of education. There wasn't any blind man in California that I heard of when I was young going to college. If you spoke to the principal of the school or any of the teachers about it, they had nothing to say. Once in a while they would speak very briefly to the effect that you must not have these big ideas. It would lead to great disappointment on your part. We paid no attention to what they said, and we don't yet.
I have one thing else to say. Don't hire sighted people to get jobs for the blind. Either they don't know what to do, which is very natural. How should they? But they at once want to call on people and have a little chat with them. Then a year or two later, they call on you again, and the poor blind devil has no job. He has had no experience in getting a job for himself; I wish there was a way of training the blind person while he's young to get his own job. I think that can be done. I hope that, when Mr. Jernigan gets back there, he some day would be able to secure the appointment of trained blind people (and I expect that he will have to do the training) to interview businessmen. Don't send them to a shop. Get a businessman interested in him to the extent that he will give him a job, and the blind boy will take care of it from then on, I think.
Now, in case Mr. Jernigan can possibly arrange to get a job back there for me, I would appreciate it very much. I am a blind man that has no job, and I am looking forward with some hope, some wishes that perhaps he will send for me and give me a good job. [laughter]
Judging from the success that he has met with here in California, and he has not been here a great while, but judging from what he has accomplished, I have a great deal of confidence in his ability to make a wonderful success in his new job.