Braille Monitor                                                    January 2010

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Reflections on the Contributions of an Editor: Barbara Pierce

by Marc Maurer

Marc MaurerWith this issue of the Braille Monitor, a transition in the editorial duties takes place. Barbara Pierce ceases her work as editor of the Monitor; Daniel Frye assumes this task.

This change in leadership is a cause for reflection. When I thought about this alteration, I remembered that I had first read a copy of the Monitor in 1969. The magazine was being produced in Braille, but I received my copy on record because I wanted to hear the voices associated with the events of the National Federation of the Blind—especially the grand tones of our president, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.

Perry Sundquist was the editor, and Hazel tenBroek, the widow of our founding president, Jacobus tenBroek, was the assistant editor. I attended my first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in the summer of 1969. Following the Presidential Report, we heard from Mrs. tenBroek about matters dealing with progress in the Braille Monitor. She reported to the convention every year until her retirement.

Mrs. tenBroek and Perry Sundquist did their work from California, but the next editor, Don McConnell, carried out his responsibilities from our office in Washington, DC. When he ceased performing editorial duties, President Jernigan became the editor on a temporary basis, which lasted for more than a decade. In 1993 Barbara Pierce assumed full editorial control of the Braille Monitor, and she has held this position continually since that time. She has been the editor for seventeen years, and she worked on the magazine prior to her editorship for another five years. No other person has performed as long, created more copy, covered more subjects, or written as much as Barbara Pierce.

The Braille Monitor magazine began publication in 1957. At the end of 1960, its production was interrupted by events in the Federation’s civil war. The magazine was continued beginning in 1964, and it has remained in publication since that time.

As I mentioned earlier, I first encountered the Braille Monitor in 1969. It seemed to me that it was being produced by eminent human beings who possessed the traits of wisdom, diplomatic experience, and a dedication to building a better and more exciting society—especially for the blind. Within a few months of my becoming aware of the publication, I had the good fortune of meeting its editors. I was young; they were not. I was new to the thought processes of independence and equality; they accepted these as an essential part of reality. I was inexperienced; they were skilled in the craft of presenting and promoting new ideas. I admired these editors and listened to them with respect—almost with awe.

The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind startled me. As I became better acquainted with it, I was startled less often but inspired just as much. Most of the time I learned the philosophy from the pages of the Braille Monitor. The Monitor remains a source of inspiration for me. The editor of the Monitor is responsible for maintaining the standard which makes the thoughts inspiring and the ideas a source of reflection and strength. Barbara Pierce has done in an exemplary fashion all that we have asked of her.

In the spring of 1998, I sat with Dr. Jernigan in his sick room. He had contracted cancer, which had been diagnosed in late 1997. We spoke about the future of the Federation, and one of the topics of our conversation was the editing of the Braille Monitor. As it happened, I had a draft of one edition of the Monitor in my hands that had been produced for me in Braille. The topic of the issue was the scurrilous behavior of the principals of the Maxi-Aids Company. The people directing Maxi-Aids had lied, stolen, and engaged in other sharp practices in an attempt to drive competitors out of business or to secure advantageous relationships for themselves. Barbara Pierce had written the hard-hitting article that contained the facts, and she had done the research to back up the statements describing what the principals of Maxi-Aids had done. Dr. Jernigan asked me what I thought about the report, and I responded that I thought it was good. It reflected well on the history of the Monitor and the purpose for its publication. The grand tradition of speaking the truth and not pulling our punches continued in those vital pages.

During the decade of the 1980s, conflict between the National Federation of the Blind and a number of agencies for the blind was constant. The conflict continued in the early part of the 1990s, but changes in the field of work for the blind were occurring with rapidity. One of the most notable of these changes is that the recognition of blind people as necessary elements in creating the objectives in programming for the blind and in evaluating their effectiveness became recognized in a great many of the agencies serving the blind. The Braille Monitor helped in depicting the change and stimulating it.

Sometimes the pages of the Braille Monitor make me laugh; sometimes they cause me to ponder what might be true if a proposition contained in them becomes real; sometimes they give me reason for a feeling of admiration; and sometimes they make me reflect in astonishment. The Monitor gives me information, but it also offers food for thought, and an affirmation of our determination to be free. These are the things it was established to do. I am delighted that Barbara Pierce has given of herself for the longest period that anybody has served as editor of the Braille Monitor. She has placed her stamp on the history of the organized blind movement. Her work has changed the meaning of blindness in the United States and throughout the world.  

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