The Braille Monitor January/February 2002
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Address to the 1956 Convention of the Tennessee Affiliate
Kenneth Jernigan in the 1950's
by Kenneth Jernigan
From the Editor: We recently came into possession of a recording of an address delivered by Kenneth Jernigan to the Tennessee Association for the Blind on Sunday, June 10, 1956. Unfortunately the quality of the recording is too poor to allow us to dub it into the cassette edition of this issue, but it is a remarkable document. Dr. Jernigan was only twenty-nine when he attended the convention as the national representative. In some ways in this speech one can watch him developing the speaking style that he later perfected. Much of his message is timeless; some on the other hand addresses problems specific to the organization of the day. The solutions he proposes, however, are as appropriate and shrewd as his advice always was.
He refers to a publication called What is the National Federation of the Blind? This is not the brief, one-page brochure we use today. Shortly before this address Dr. Jernigan had gone to President tenBroek to say that in his opinion the organization needed a document that would explain what the NFB was and what it stood for. He said that he would try his hand at writing it unless President tenBroek wanted to do something else. Dr. tenBroek was no doubt delighted to have such an offer, and Dr. Jernigan produced the pamphlet that the organization used until the decision was later made to change its nature. It is this more ambitious publication that is referred to in the speech.
Here then is the transcription of the speech delivered to the Tennessee Association for the Blind:
Fellow members of the National Federation of the Blind, it is indeed a pleasure for me to be at this local meeting of the National Federation of the Blind. Now let me begin again; members of the Tennessee Association for the Blind, it is a pleasure to be at this meeting of the Tennessee Association. And let me begin again a third time: ladies and gentlemen of the chapters of this organization, it is a pleasure for me to be at a meeting of these chapters. Now I have said the same thing three different ways. Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a pleasure for me to bring to you as members of the Tennessee affiliate of the National Federation the greetings of the national officers, the national organization all over the country, the other state affiliates. It is a pleasure to meet with our groups in Tennessee and in any other state and to talk with you about some of the things that are common problems to all blind people, some of our aspirations and some of our goals.
Most of you have seen a pamphlet called What Is the National Federation of the Blind? I do not propose to read that pamphlet to you, but I would like to talk to you about one section of that pamphlet. It is the very heart of that pamphlet; it's the heart and essence of the National Federation. And, when I say "National Federation," you already know I mean you, for you are the National Federation; there is no other.
There is a question in the pamphlet, What Is the National Federation of the Blind? which goes as follows: "What is the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind?" And the answer given in the pamphlet is brief, but it is very significant for the blind of this country. If I had to sum up in one phrase or one sentence what the National Federation of the Blind stands for, I think I could do it like this: it is respectable to be blind. Now that is a thing that many people don't believe. Almost nobody would say that he didn't believe that, and most people don't think that they believe that it is not respectable to be blind, but I think that I can prove to you that many people do believe, in fact, that it is not totally respectable to be blind.
Have you ever seen anybody for instance who said, "You know, folks really forget that I am blind or almost think that I act like a sighted fellow." Or have you heard people say, "Really, I feel self-conscious or sensitive to carry a cane." Now I'm not saying that people should carry a cane, but I am saying this: let us suppose for a moment that it was against the law--not just a misdemeanor, but a felony--for anybody to carry a cane unless the person was a member of the Vanderbilt family. And let us further suppose that no Vanderbilt could carry a cane, have this honor, unless he had at least five million dollars in the bank. Do you think then that anybody would hesitate to carry a cane? I doubt it. As a matter of fact, I suspect that there would be people who, in spite of the penitentiary and all the laws would wear canes in their hats. I repeat, "It is respectable to be blind." And it follows from that that we should be proud of our organization. I was especially glad to see tonight that your president could make an award of a watch to a blind person in this state who is becoming successful, that you could honor one of your own members. For in honoring our organization, we honor ourselves.
I went to the state of Oregon a couple of years ago. An organization of the blind there was debating whether or not it would come into our National Federation. And one man got up, a very good speaker, and used as one of the planks for not affiliating the fact that, if the Oregon group, he said, "affiliates with the National Federation, people are going to know this. We are going to be associated with the group, and," he said, "there's no way that we can keep from being associated with the things that the National Federation would be for."
And I said, "You are certainly right, and we don't want you to feel that you have to apologize for being a member of the National Federation of the Blind"; we're proud of this organization. We are proud to honor the President of this organization. We are proud to honor every state president because it is respectable to be a member of this organization. So the first tenet of our philosophy is the basic respectability of blindness.
As those of you who have read the pamphlet, What Is the National Federation of the Blind? will remember, the answer to the question, "What is the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind?" is as follows: "the Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal people and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It is merely a physical nuisance. Legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that blind people are somehow different from sighted people must be abolished, and equality of opportunity must be made available to the blind. Because of their personal experience of blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems. But the general public should be made aware of those problems and should be asked to participate in their solution."
Now I would like to take that statement of philosophy, that announced goal of the organization, and talk about it very briefly sentence by sentence with you and try to tell you what, at least for me, it means and what I think it does in fact mean.
First the belief that "blind people are essentially normal people and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap": Blindness means one thing--that you can't see. It means nothing more and it means nothing less than that. Let me differentiate for you briefly between the disability of blindness and the handicap of blindness, for therein lies a problem for us. The disability of blindness is the fact that you can't see, and that can be treated by the doctor. It can be treated medically. You can either cure it, or you can live with it, and that's all there is to it.
Now the handicap of blindness is something else. The handicap of blindness is what people have thought about blindness--what the sighted have thought about it and what the blind have thought about it. Therein lies the problem for the disability of blindness. The physical disability is simply a nuisance. Any of you who have left your rocking chairs, and all of you have or you wouldn't be here--any of you who have got up and traveled at all have bumped your shins on something. That's a nuisance. You may have hit your forehead on an over-hanging bough, and that's a nuisance. But it doesn't make you psychologically different, and it's no more a nuisance than shaving in the morning. There are even times when perhaps you've come into a crowded bus station and you've followed the clicking heels of some lady, figuring that you were going out onto the street and perhaps ended up almost in the ladies' rest room.[laughter] But that is no more than a nuisance.[more laughter]
People very often confuse the disability with the handicap. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Two years ago a young lady in the state of California that I know was teaching in the public schools of that state. She was teaching a fourth-grade class of sighted children. She became blind. She went to her doctor, and he said to her, "Angia," for that was her name, "You have no hope of getting your sight back."
She said to him, "Doctor, you mean I won't be able to teach any more?"
And he said, "I'm afraid that's right, Angia. It may be hard to say to you, but you should prepare yourself now for something which a blind person can do. I would suggest that you try to get a job as a stenographer, that you try to prepare yourself for typing or some other job." He was a doctor. He understood the physical disability of blindness, but he was presuming to advise her about the handicap of blindness, something he knew nothing at all about. She took his word for it. When we of the California organization of the blind met her, she was totally despairing. She said, "I cannot teach again."
And I said, "Why can't you teach?" And she told me the story about the doctor. So I read with her the report concerning the employment of the blind in the teaching profession, and I pointed out to her that thirteen blind people in the state of Ohio alone were teaching in the public schools regular, ordinary classes. I pointed out to her that blind people in other states were teaching in regular elementary schools. Today that girl is teaching again in a fourth-grade class of ordinary sighted students in an ordinary school. She confused the disability of blindness with the handicap of blindness. Blind people, ladies and gentlemen, are normal people. When we say those words, we very often admit them intellectually, but we don't admit them emotionally. They are a fact.
The second item in this philosophy is a three-fold proposition: "legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that blind people are somehow different from sighted people must be abolished." We say those words, you hear people use the word "discrimination," and they talk about legal, economic and social, and they run over them as if they were one word, and most people don't really think about what those things mean.
Sometimes I take a class of students in the agency where I work, and I say to them, "Give me an example of a legal discrimination." I first ask them: "Do you believe that these things ought to be abolished?" And they will usually say, yes. Then I say, "What is it that you want abolished? Give me an example of a social discrimination. Do you know of any?" The answers are interesting. There are legal, economic, and social discriminations. Legal discrimination--what is your National Federation of the Blind doing to abolish legal discrimination? In short, what are you doing?
Well, through your national office, for you are doing whatever the National Federation does, we have had one thing that we call the Civil Service story. A lot of you may immediately say, "But I do not intend to get a Civil Service job, and therefore this doesn't affect me." But it does. Let me first tell you what the Civil Service story is, and then let me try to show you how it affects us. Before 1948 blind people were pretty much excluded from federal Civil Service. There was an occasional instance of a blind person's, because of the goodness of a local Civil Service office, being permitted to take a Civil Service examination, but it was the policy almost universally to exclude blind people.
In that year you, the National Federation of the Blind, succeeded in getting the United States Congress to pass a law that the federal Civil Service Commission could not discriminate against blind people in giving federal Civil Service examinations unless, in the opinion of the Commission, sight was absolutely indispensable to the performance of the duties of the job in question. The commission evaded the spirit of that law by declaring that sight was indispensable to all jobs in the federal Civil Service in effect. Blind people continued to be excluded.
In 1950 a case which most of you know about occurred. A young man named Russell Kletzing was permitted to take a Civil Service examination. He passed it. The examination was for a position as a legal consultant with the federal government. The federal officials in Washington discovered that he had passed it and was a blind person and removed his name from the register on the grounds of blindness and that blind people couldn't perform that kind of work. In the meantime Kletzing had got a job with another branch of the federal government doing exactly the same kind of work.
This was a good case, and you, the National Federation of the Blind, took that case to court. Let me stop right here to ask, "How does that affect you?" I think it affects you like this: the very fact in the first place that we were able to get publicity to the effect that blind people were able to do this kind of work, the fact that, as soon as that case was taken to court, the affiliates all over the country were asked to send in a list of successfully practicing blind lawyers, and we collected a list of over a hundred. That was publicized all over the country. Now that affected you because an employer, a professional man, a businessman, a labor leader--all of those in one way or another were exposed to that publicity. And the next time they met you on the street, although they may not have remembered the publicity, they treated you a little bit differently.
If you doubt that, think for a moment of the effects of advertising. Why does the American business world spend billions of dollars a year on advertising? "You don't know of a man," a person said to me once, "ever who has said to a blind man, `I won't hire you because I have seen blind people on the street begging' or `I've seen other blind people who were helpless and therefore this has had a subtle effect on me.' You don't know of that do you?"
And I said, "I do not." Neither do I know of anybody who smokes Winstons because the radio told him to, but that's the reason he smokes them. If it were not true, the cigarette industry wouldn't spend the money advertising. We are creatures of habit. If we are told a thing often enough, we come to expect it, and we act upon it. The first telling may not do it or the second or the third, but it happens.
Therefore every time a blind man gets a job, it helps you--every one of you, even if, as some of us say, you have it made. None of us have it made. You are exposed to social discrimination even if you are wealthy, if you are a blind person at the current time.
But to go on with the testing case briefly, the Civil Service Commission got scared. They figured that we would win that case, so they abolished the entire Civil Service registry and said that you couldn't restore a man's name to a register that didn't exist and asked that it [the case] be thrown out of court. And the court agreed. We appealed on that case, and we lost the appeal. And a lot of people could have said at that time, and some probably did, "Then what good is this organization to us? What has it ever done for me? Let's pull out of this organization. Why bother with it? We don't need an organization."
But it did do some good because the Civil Service opened up one examination. So much publicity had been given, so much Congressional interest had been aroused, that in the late fall of 1953 the Junior Management Assistant Examination was opened up. Now the Junior Management Assistant Examination is the hardest one given by the federal Civil Service, so there was a good deal of speculation as to the motives of the Commission. If no blind people could pass that examination or if none could qualify for it, then the Commission could say, "You see, we told you so." Of the sighted who took that examination, 3 percent passed. Of the blind who took that examination, 6 percent passed, and we were in business.
Since that time I know of some cases where blind people have actually been employed as a result, and every time one of those blind people has become employed, you individually have been helped, and I have been helped. You can feel proud of the fact that you individually helped to secure it because you are the National Federation.
There is one other case in the legal area that I want to point out along the Civil Service line which is more recent. It only culminated this month, but it proves again the statement that blind people are normal people and that we sell ourselves short far too often. A totally blind boy went through the University of Washington a few years ago as a major in chemistry. His professors in chemistry, the people who ought to know, said to him, "You cannot hope to be a chemist; you would be a hazard as a chemist." And finally they called him down and told him that he could not make ether in an experiment.
And he said,"I intend to do it."
They said, "Then you must sign a waiver that, if you kill yourself, we are not liable," which he did. He came out of that school with good grades and with a Ph.D. degree. This was two years ago this coming June. He had married in the meantime, and his wife was pretty discouraged because nobody wanted to hire a blind chemist. They were polite, but they said, "There's no job in our place that you could do."
His wife said, "We want to live a normal life, and we want to settle down. Just help him get a job as a factory worker; help him get anything." But we kept urging him, no. They had come, by that time, to the Bay Area in California, and we said, "No, let's keep fighting to get him a job as a chemist. He can do chemistry; you know he can do it."
And she said, "Yes, but other people don't know he can do it, and they won't give him a chance." He applied for a Civil Service Examination, and the only examination for Ph.D. chemistry people is that they go down and sign up that they are a Ph.D., and they're on the rolls. They put him on, but then the federal people took him off, and we protested and said, "What about your rulings?" It took us a year, a little over. In February of this year the Federation won its point and also won an admission from the Civil Service Commission that is valuable to you all. In the first place the Civil Service people said that from now on, if any job in any classification is of such a nature that it can be performed by a blind person, that entire classification will now be open to the blind.
Second, Dick Wilborn was given a job by the United States military establishment at Dugway, Utah, at the proving grounds, and he went in at what's called a GS 11 rating, March fifth of this year. I understand that the beginning salary is $6,500 a year. And yet some people say to me sometimes, "What good is this national organization?" There is your answer. That not only helps Dick Wilborn but it helps us all because Dick Wilborn is seen to be working. He is going to be convincing people. Folks will see him at work, and they will believe. They will come to Tennessee, or they'll meet people who are from Tennessee, and all along the strata of American society we'll see the information that another blind man is at work. The advertising effect is there. We are fighting many forms of legal discrimination--and I could give many examples besides the Civil Service story, but there isn't time.
There are economic discriminations. I think I really need not elaborate on those. You know that many employers, in fact, most employers, will not at the present time actually seriously consider giving a blind person a job in regular industry. There are questions of this sort: what kind of jobs can they perform? There are no jobs for blind people and jobs for sighted people. There is almost no factory, almost no office, or almost no plant in these United States that doesn't have many jobs that could be performed by blind people. Many of us really, seriously, down deep inside don't believe that, and until we can believe it and until we do believe it emotionally as well as intellectually, we are not going to achieve real equality. For you can't sell something you don't really believe yourself.
What are we doing to try to sell people on this idea? Well, then we are trying to remove the economic discrimination. And one way that we are trying to do this is to get bigger and better rehabilitation programs, trying to publicize the fact that blind people are working. We are trying to let the public, the average employer know what blind people can do. We are trying to get training for blind people and also let blind people know what other blind people are doing and encourage blind people. All of this is important: economic discrimination.
Now the final one, social: at first the social discriminations seem the most harmless. They are in reality the worst and the most subtle, and the ones that we must remove if we are ever to do anything else. For they are the symptom and the cause of all the rest of our problems. Let me illustrate. Not long ago in one of the cities of these United States a blind man went down to the blood bank to donate a pint of blood. The people at the blood bank, the doctor on duty, said to him, "I'm sorry. You are in good health, but I cannot take your blood because you might get out onto the street and faint." What does that imply? It implies first that blind people are somehow different from sighted people. But secondly it implies that this fellow wasn't capable of knowing whether he could take care of himself or not, that he was a child mentally, that he had something more than blindness the matter with him. He was very indignant about it, but he didn't get to give his blood.
The people who were in that blood bank and who saw that experience went away a little bit more confirmed in their opinion that blind people were different, were helpless. Do you think that any of those people then would turn around and give a blind person a job? Likely not. Advertising. There are YMCA's in the country, and I know of some, where blind people who are unaccompanied cannot spend the night. The theory is that they might hurt themselves, that they might fall down the stairs. Are we really such children that we cannot even be supposed to know whether we can take care of ourselves? Many people would say, "But I was just being kind; I was doing this for your own good." That we call the tyranny of kindness. I'd just as leave not have that sort of kindness.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and had somebody say to the person next to you, "Does he want cream in his coffee?"[laughter] That's a social discrimination. It is a thing that robs blind people of dignity. It is a thing that robs blind people of equal treatment in society. It is a thing that robs you of dollars in your pocket, of jobs. I have gone places with a sighted person and had somebody say to that sighted person after we have had some food, "Would he like a second helping?" My escort had no way under the sun of knowing whether or not I wanted a second serving.
But I'll tell you whom that situation might have fit very logically. Suppose I took a three-year-old child, a very small child, to any place where we were eating. Somebody might suppose that that child would not be capable of telling them whether he wanted something else or not. But they would figure that, since I was with him and was a responsible adult and was used to him, I would be able to interpret his needs. So they would ask me, "Does he want so-and-so," and I would turn and ask him by whatever sign language we used, and he would tell me, and I would reinterpret his needs and say that "he does" or "he does not." That kind of question is an insult to every last one of us.
Now the people who do that do not do it maliciously. They do it with kindness. They don't do it because they wish to be mean. They would be hurt in many instances if we told them that this was a discrimination, that it really was robbing blind people, but that's what it's doing. And that's what your national organization is dedicated to try to remove--to try to do something about. It's what you are doing something about by being members of this group and by working together. Social discriminations: they are the most subtle of all, and they are the ones that hurt us the most.
We are sending out in the White Cane literature each year pamphlets that describe to people what blind folks are doing. When you figure the entire, nationwide mailing, they're going out in millions. A few years ago there was a pamphlet sent out during White Cane Week called "The Ten Courtesy Rules of Blindness." Many of you may have seen that pamphlet. If we never get a dime back, even if we had to pay money to send that pamphlet, it was worth it to us because it said this: "When you meet me, don't be ill at ease. Remember these rules; they'll help both of us."
And then ten points were given. I won't give you all of the ten, but see what you think of them. One was: "Don't ask my wife, `Does he take cream in his coffee?' Ask me." Another one was, "Don't avoid words like `see'; I use them too. I am always glad to see you." Another one was, "Don't shout or address me as if I were a child; I'm an ordinary person, just blind." And then another one was, "Whatever I have accomplished I've done by hard work, so don't talk to me about the wonderful compensations of blindness." This kind of thing helps to make people think. It helps to change the social discrimination.
Yet some folks say sometimes, "They (whoever the they might happen to be--I don't know what this they is) They, the National Federation of the Blind, ought to have a positive program. They are too critical." And yet they are distributing--whoever they is--are distributing materials like this through the mail. They are fighting the Wilborn case and the testing case and are establishing the changes in the Civil Service, and I have concluded that the they is you--all of us. We are the they.
Now to move on to the last part of this statement of philosophy then: "Because of their personal experience of blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems. The blind themselves must unite and take leadership in solving common problems."
If it is true that we are normal people, if it is true that we are equal to other people, then we certainly ought to know more about our problems than other people would know. And therefore we ought to unite, we ought to take leadership in solving those problems. This is why every person who is blind ought to be in the National Federation of the Blind. You ought to be in your local groups here. I think one of our great problems in this state--and I have been in this state a long time, and I know some of the problems here. They are not peculiar to this state--but one of our great problems has been that people have been able to divide us and conquer. We have not displayed a common front. People have gone into a meeting and voted, and, if the vote didn't go to suit them, they then have gone out and worked as they pleased anyway.
You have no right to do that sort of thing in my opinion. If we participate in an organization, and we ought to, and if we participate in the vote, then it seems to me that we are honor-bound--and not only honor-bound but, if we've got good sense, for our own preservation we are going to go with the majority decision.
I know that in this state individuals have sometimes got ahead a little bit, and then they have decided, "Well, I believe I'll deal with the Governor or the legislature or with some office-holder on my own. I'm not going to deal through the organization.” Every time that happens, it weakens every blind person in the United States, and it doesn't help the individual who does it in the long run, for he is made the victim of his own strategy. For, if he can do it, somebody else can do it, and somebody else has done it.
I saw a letter not many years ago from a very prominent state official which I think is a classic and which illustrates what I am talking about perfectly. The blind of this state wanted something, so a letter was sent to this official stating that the blind would like so-and-so. The official answered very smugly. (He answered one of our friends, by the way, but the person who wrote the letter was in another city from Nashville.) And this official answered, "As you doubtless know, there are several groups in this state, each of whom claims to represent all of the blind of the state. And, as you probably also know, there are several individuals who are not organized who claim individually to represent the blind of this state. And therefore," politely the official went on to say, "I don't propose to do anything about what you recommend, for the blind don't want it at all."
If a blind man goes to the legislature of this state, if a blind man gets an office in this state, if a blind man becomes prominent in his community in this state, he still ought to feel that the Tennessee Association for the Blind is the voice of the blind of this state, and he ought to come into this organization and work through its channels and let the president and the board of this organization speak for him, for if we cannot delegate to our representatives the right to represent us, we cannot make very much advancement. That is a prime principle, and there is no way around it. Those people who talk of going it alone are either very reckless or very foolish and perhaps both.
It is true that in those states in the United States where the blind have had a united and a strong organization, you came to have more employment of blind people, and you came to have a higher living standard all around. And in those states where you have weak organizations or none, you came to have poor and wretched conditions for the blind.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we go away from this convention with nothing else, I hope that we will go away from this convention each one determined that he will not deal independently with state officials and with all sorts of groups outside and say that the blind want thus-and-so but that he will deal through the duly constituted representatives of this organization. You may not like the officers you elected. If you don't, get out and politic and throw them out. But at the same time, for God's sake, as long as they are your officers, as long as they have been elected to represent the blind, then let them represent the blind.
That's one phase of uniting and taking leadership in solving our common problems, and it is perhaps the most important phase on a state or a national or a local level. People have been able to play one group of us off against another group. However, there is a corollary of that philosophy. We say that "The blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems." That's true, but there is something else. "The general public should be made aware of those problems and should be asked to participate in their solution." The first is of little importance or of little benefit unless we can follow through with the second.
It is true, and I suppose that I need not argue with you on this point, that blind people who have actually learned how to be successful themselves ought to know what is involved in a blind person's becoming successful. Therefore they ought to lead the way and point the way in solving their problems, but it is also true that we are a minority group and that we do have to live in a regular, ordinary community, that we want jobs in regular industry, that we want to be interdependent with our neighbors, that we want to be one and the same with our fellow citizens. If we are to do that, we must educate the public. We must make them aware of our problems.
How can we do it? Meetings like this help to do it. Our own belief in the things that we stand for will do it. Distributing booklets like What Is the National Federation of the Blind? will do it. I have distributed about one thousand copies of this book this year. How many have you distributed? They are available. No one need say that he cannot get literature from the Federation office for it is available in piles if you want it in print. All you have to do is write and say, "I'd like to have it." Clyde Ross in Akron, Ohio, has put copies of this book and also "Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?" which talks about the different jobs that blind people are doing--he's put copies of these out in the public libraries for people to pick up. How many have you put out? That's one thing.
Every radio program, every TV program, every newspaper article that's properly done helps to educate the public. But every fund-raising appeal that goes out that talks about the world of darkness, that talks about, in effect, the helplessness of the blind damages the cause. It reinforces people in their belief that we are basically helpless.
Some people say, "We are all working for the same thing, and therefore let's all get together." That's true, and it isn't true. Every group that is doing work in the name of the blind is not working for the same goal we're working for. If you believe that such is the case, listen just to these two sentences that I copied from a recent publication of one group, which I do not care to name particularly. This is the quote: "A job, a home, and the right to be a citizen will come to the blind in that generation when each and every blind person is a living advertisement of his abilities and capacities to accept the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. Then we professionals will have no problem of interpretation because the blind will no longer need us to speak for them, and we like primitive segregation will die away."
Now you think about that statement for a moment. That is the announced statement of philosophy of one group. I presume that that which will come is not here now, by logic. And, if you say, "in some future generation," I take it that that's a long time off. So notice the things that the blind will someday in some far-off generation get: "a job, a home, and" if you please "the right to be a citizen." I have the right to be a citizen now; don't you?
There's a second part to that statement: "Then we professionals will have no problem of interpretation." If I go to a foreign country and I am so different from the people that I don't speak their language, I hire an interpreter to interpret my needs. I am not so different, I feel, from regular people that I cannot interpret my own needs. "For the blind will no longer need us to speak for them"--do we really need anybody to speak for us now? So I repeat, we are not all working for the same thing, and there are times when, even if it appears to be critical, we must stand up and speak. I do not care to exist as a well-fed slave, and I don't think you do.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I know that sometimes, when you work in a locality, in a state organization, or when you are working in your own community, maybe by yourself, you can feel, "I'm really kind of carrying this fight alone." That's not true as I think has been amply demonstrated in this convention. You've seen leaders of the North Carolina Federation here. In other state conventions your state president has appeared. We are beginning to exchange visitors at these conventions and to swap ideas. And more than that, the blind all over the country have united themselves into one organization, and we are moving, almost forty thousand of us, for that is how many members the NFB has all over the country, forty thousand. We are moving in one common cause, and we are moving together.
It's coming slowly, but we are winning for the blind independence and the right to be normal, regular citizens. The issue is not in doubt; we are going to win it. During this two-day convention I feel that we have had one of the most constructive meetings, perhaps the most, that I've ever attended in this organization. I have seen a kind of enthusiasm here which convinces me that the Tennessee group is on the verge of the biggest expansion it's ever had.
I have known for a long time and respected your president. I still know him and respect him, and the same for the other officers and leaders of this group. Although it has been a pleasure for me to come back and visit you and bring the greetings of the national office to you, I have not felt like a visitor at this convention, for I don't think I am a visitor with you. In California, wherever I go, I am still a Tennessean, so this has really been for me coming home. It's been a real pleasure to be with you. I hope to see many of you in California this summer. I thank you.
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