Braille Monitor                                                    June 2008

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Dr. Floyd Matson Dies

by Marc Maurer

 Floyd Matson: August 31, 1921, to April 7, 2008

On April 7, 2008, Dr. Floyd Matson died. He had suffered a stroke in December of 2006, and his health had deteriorated from that time until his death.

Dr. Matson, Floyd, or Mat (as he was often known) was born in Hawaii on August 31, 1921. During his working life he was most often a professor at the University of Hawaii and at the University of California at Berkeley. However, he also served in the army and worked as a reporter for a number of years. Dr. Matson met Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the National Federation of the Blind, in 1947 or 48. He was a student at the University of California at Berkeley who served as an assistant to Professor tenBroek. Working with Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Matson participated in writing Prejudice, War, and the Constitution, a book that described the internment of the Japanese in camps in the United States during World War II. In this book Drs. tenBroek and Matson argue that the internment of the Japanese violates constitutional principles. The Supreme Court declared that the restriction of freedom of Japanese-born individuals in the United States was permissible under the Constitution. However, the authors of Prejudice, War, and the Constitution believed that it could never have happened except during the time of war and that even during wartime the actions taken on U.S. soil to restrict freedom of individuals twisted the logic of constitutional argument. During the 1980s, a reparations bill was passed by the Congress to give detainees a payment in reparation for restricted freedom during World War II. Much of the basis for this reparation payment came from the book written by Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Matson, and Edward Barnhart.

During the 1960s Dr. Matson became for a time the assistant editor of the Braille Monitor. No matter where he was working, at the University of California or the University of Hawaii, he continued his work with Dr. tenBroek doing research and writing about programs and activities of importance to the National Federation of the Blind. I met Dr. Matson in the fall of 1969. He was then a leader of our affiliate in Hawaii, and he was doing research regarding social programs affecting the blind. This research and study complemented his writings in the humanities that were always a part of his work as a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Dr. Matson served as a primary leader of the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii, and for many years he was the treasurer of our affiliate. In 2005 the National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii honored Dr. Matson as a "treasure of Hawaii" for all of his outstanding efforts to support the blind in that state and throughout the nation.

During the 1950s Dr. Matson assisted with the preparation of testimony to be offered in Congress on the right of the blind to organize. Governmental and private agencies had been taking reprisals against blind people who joined the National Federation of the Blind. Officials in these agencies believed that blind people should not have the effrontery ("the immortal crust") to demand that they had the right to speak on their own behalf and to organize for collective action. Sometimes Dr. Matson would speak of the congressional hearing rooms with the suits from the agencies on one side and the blind with their canes and dogs on the other. The image of the suits against the canes focused and guided Dr. Matson's work throughout his lifetime. He always attempted to bring recognition to the dispossessed--to assist those seeking independence.

Dr. Floyd Matson was a big man but also a very gentle one. He had a great sense of humor, and he loved to write. His books and articles are filled with references to historical documents, literary compositions, and theories of society. For more than thirty years he taught American Studies, which meant that he knew the literature and the popular culture of our country. One of the methods for presenting popular culture was the study of American movies and moviemaking. In the early days, when Dr. Matson was in California, he met John Wayne over one of the Thanksgiving weekends. In his classes he taught about the impact of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Leonardo DiCaprio on American thought.

Dr. Matson wrote more than a dozen books--most of them directed toward the development of social philosophy and politics. Two of his volumes are Walking Alone and Marching Together: A History of the Organized Blind Movement in the United States, 1940-1990 and Blind Justice: Jacobus tenBroek and the Vision of Equality.

Dr. Matson's witty, self-deprecating, incisive thought is a part of the history, the literature, and the research of the National Federation of the Blind. The organized blind movement and prospects for blind people could not have developed as far as they have without him. He will be a part of the spirit of our movement and our effort to achieve freedom until all blind people are recognized for the valuable people we are. Whether they recognize it or not, all blind people are indebted to Floyd Matson. Those of us who knew and loved him will deeply miss him.

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