by Lou Ann Blake
From the Editor: Lou Ann Blake is a member of the tenBroek Library staff at the NFB Jernigan Institute.
On March 27, 1968, Jacobus tenBroek died at the age of fifty-six from cancer. Soon thereafter hundreds of condolence cards, letters, and telegrams from around the world flooded into the tenBroek home on Shasta Road in Berkeley, California. At the time of his death Dr. tenBroek was president of both the National Federation of the Blind and the International Federation of the Blind, and he was a professor in the Political Science Department on the Berkeley campus of the University of California. In addition he had served as a member of the California State Social Welfare Board from 1950 to 1963 and was its chairman from 1960 to 1963.
The impact that Dr. tenBroek had as a legal scholar, professor, social welfare reformer, and leader of the blind civil rights movement, as well as a husband, father, and neighbor, is reflected in the memories of students, colleagues, friends, and fellow blind people who sent their condolences to Hazel tenBroek and the three tenBroek children, Dutch, Anna, and Nicholas. These letters, including those that this article is based on, are now part of the Jacobus tenBroek Personal Papers archival collection, which is housed in the Jacobus tenBroek Library. They are a moving, poignant tribute to a man who was admired and respected by people from all walks of life and from all over the world.
Memories from the California School for the Blind
In 1920, at age nine, Jacobus tenBroek became a student at the California School for the Blind in Berkeley. As noted in a letter of condolence to Mrs. tenBroek from Everett Wilcox, superintendent of the California School for the Blind, the young Jacobus tenBroek, known as "Chick" to his family, friends, and classmates, already displayed a drive to excel and an unwillingness to conform to stereotypes:
During the short period I have been here at the school, Dr. tenBroek's former classmates have told me of his early interest in learning and his ever-present drive to excel. Once, when driving to Concord, Mr. Robert Campbell recalled the long hike with his classmate Chick to visit a relative. The distance and the nature of the terrain over the Berkeley Hills gave an early indication of Dr. tenBroek's willingness to explore and not be confined by existing boundaries.
While he attended the California School for the Blind, the young tenBroek participated in a new program that enabled a select group of blind students to attend the Berkeley public high school. He graduated from both schools in 1930. After more than thirty years the memories of his reader, Mrs. Fred Hines, as related in a letter to Hazel tenBroek, remained strong:
You don't know me, but I was his reader when he was graduating from high school and when he was in college. I knew him as “Chick,” and he always knew so much more than I did that I couldn't keep up with what I read.
This was over thirty years ago, and I have never forgotten him. He was an inspiration to everyone who knew him. I have followed his activities throughout the years and have always felt a bit of personal pride in his achievements.
Following his graduation from high school, Jacobus tenBroek attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he received his undergraduate degree in history in 1934, a graduate degree in political science in 1935, his law degree in 1938, and a doctorate in juridical science in 1940. From 1939 to 1940 Dr. tenBroek was a Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and he worked as a tutor and lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School from 1940 to 1942. Finally, in 1942 Jacobus tenBroek returned to Berkeley, where he first taught in the Speech Department and then moved to the Political Science Department in 1963, where he remained until his death.
The TenBroek Experience
One theme that is repeated by many of the expressions of condolence, particularly by his students, is that one did not merely encounter Jacobus tenBroek; rather one "experienced" him. In a letter to the editor published in the April 5, 1968, edition of the Daily Californian, Berkeley political science senior Mark Lipton wrote:
He was...a teacher in the true sense of the word.
One experienced tenBroek. His class was not for the uninterested or the unprepared, at any rate not for long. His passion for the subjects was injected to anyone who dared verbally to cross swords with him. The accessibility of Professor tenBroek as well as the cordiality with which he treated students out of the classroom created relationships (between him and innumerable students) essential to the maintenance of a campus community.
Having taken two courses from the professor, his style and warmth are particularly apparent to me. No matter how rigid his rules, how strict his requirements, an underlying force of reasonableness was always apparent. It was apparent and logically expected because of the deep respect tenBroek had for human dignity, for man.
Without exception, every former or current student who wrote a condolence message called Dr. tenBroek a master teacher. Former student Muriel Shelley Goldhammer wrote in a letter to Hazel tenBroek: "Whatever his many achievements, he was for me the master teacher. There were times when he paced us so hard through his agonizing, mind-stretching exercises that we all wanted to accuse him of sophistry. Yet each day and each week we came back to stretch some more, hoping to achieve the quality of rational thought he expected of us."
Gerald Frug, another former student and then special assistant to the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, wrote of Dr. tenBroek: "I was a student of his in 1960 and shared then the universally held view that he was the best professor at the University. My days at the Harvard Law School and the London School of Economics have not altered my view that he was my finest teacher. He continues to be an inspiration to me."
In addition, Dr. tenBroek's ability to train his students to think clearly and logically was frequently mentioned in the letters of condolence the tenBroek family received. Former student Guy Saperstein wrote:
I took 4 courses from Prof. tenBroek and, in many ways, I consider "the tenBroek experience" to have been a turning point in my educational career. The clarity of his logic pierced the lethargy of my thought processes and put me on the road to active thought. I came to Prof. tenBroek as a C student and, upon leaving his courses, received few grades less than A. The major reason for the transformation was, I think, his turning a lazy mind towards activity.
On this same theme, Geoffrey Van Loucks, a partner with the law firm Popelka, Graham, Van Loucks & Allard, wrote:
I was one of his students in the mid 50's. He always felt, and rightly so, that I was intellectually lazy, and he never failed to push me into greater and more difficult tasks. He taught me prior to my entry into law school the value of intellectual discipline, and while he and I argued, sometimes seriously, over politics and points of view, the process resulted in giving training, shape, and discipline to an unused and immature mind.
Many of Dr. tenBroek's students went on to successful careers as government officials, lawyers, judges, business executives, and teachers. In their condolence cards and letters to the tenBroek family, many of them credited Dr. tenBroek with their success. Allen D. Allen, president of Data Techniques Corporation, wrote to Mrs. tenBroek, "His influence on my ability to think clearly about complex issues is best expressed by the fact that his photograph hangs in the den of my home." The decision to become a teacher and the resulting satisfaction and joy in his career was credited to "my special tutelary" by Readley College psychology instructor W. Thomas Keefe.
Judge Larry Thorne of the Justice Court in San Bernardino County recalled how important Dr. tenBroek's interest in him was in achieving his career goals:
When I was a seventeen-year-old freshman on the Berkeley campus, in 1947, I had the privilege and inspirational experience of taking speech from your husband. His concise thinking and analysis of problems, his humanitarian and liberal approach to civil rights and the solving of the problems of the minority groups, was truly inspirational to me, as well as to the thousands of other students that had the privilege of taking courses from him. I know in my own personal experience, had it not been for Dr. tenBroek's warm interest in me as an individual and in my success, I might easily have become lost among the thousands on campus and not achieved many of my goals.
How often over the years, as I have reviewed what...success I have had, have I looked back to the courses that I took under the direction of Dr. tenBroek and the inspiration he gave me. His inspiration lives on in my heart and mind, and I am sure in the works and deeds of all of his students over the years.
Remembering Dr. TenBroek as the Leader of the Blind Civil Rights Movement
As president of both the National Federation of the Blind and the International Federation of the Blind, Jacobus tenBroek’s death was a loss that was felt by the blind around the world. While his fellow blind admired Dr. tenBroek's intellect and achievements as a legal scholar, they also appreciated his ability as a leader to treat everyone with dignity, his humility, his compassion for all who were struggling to achieve equality of opportunity, and his ability to inspire them to dare to achieve. These sentiments were expressed by Evelyn Weckerly, an NFB member in Muskegon, Michigan, when she wrote to Mrs. tenBroek:
I did not know Dr. tenBroek well because I have been active for a relatively short time and because I have attended only two conventions. But meeting him only once--that is, the first time in Louisville--is something which I can never forget. A full realization of his accomplishments had come to me during the year preceding the convention, but meeting him revealed to me his deep sense of humility, his ability to give dignity and importance to those making the minutest contribution, his limitless concern for the problems of those struggling for a fair chance. I am trying to find the words to convey to you my feelings about a man who has been an inspiration to all of us--a man who has caused the poor and disabled to hope, to dream, to dare, and to achieve. The greatest tribute we can pay to him is to carry on what he has begun and to bring it fully to fruition.
The importance of Dr. tenBroek's work to unite the blind of the United States through the formation of the National Federation of the Blind was eloquently summarized by Henry Tyler of Englewood, Colorado, when he wrote:
Throughout his very active lifetime, he achieved many goals and in numerous fields of endeavor. Not the least of these goals was that of bringing the blind of this nation together and organizing them into one solid front against the entrenched social and economic injustices of our society in which his less fortunate brethren have, much too long, been forced to exist. With his great storehouse of wisdom and knowledge, his many talents and his time and energy, he fought the good fight to turn the tide of want and inequality of opportunity into human dignity and useful existence. His unceasing drive to make the National Federation of the Blind [a] real force for good will live on as a memorial to his memory.
As president of the International Federation of the Blind and the NFB representative to the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind (WCWB), Jacobus tenBroek was recognized throughout the world as a leader in the blind civil rights movement. Upon his death the tenBroek family received messages of condolence from leaders of organizations of the blind in many countries, including Great Britain, Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka), and India. In a letter to Hazel tenBroek that gives insight into Dr. tenBroek’s influence and work ethic, Rajendra Vyas of Bombay, India, wrote:
I have had the good fortune of coming into contact with many a people from all over the world, both blind and otherwise, who are engaged in the rehabilitation of the blind. I can say without any iota of exaggeration that I have really come across very few men of the calibre, talents, and intellectual abilities possessed by Chick. A thinker, a powerful orator and organizer, and above all a man of great learning, Chick left an indelible impression on the mind of anyone he met. I vividly recall his great help to me on the resolutions committee of the W.C.W.B. of which I happened to be the chairman at the New York session. After a full day's work followed by dinners and parties, the resolutions committee met and continued its session very often well past midnight to prepare the final resolution for the General Assembly. Here Chick with his penetrating insight and masterly command over the English language proved of great help in drafting resolutions.
The impact of Dr. tenBroek's leadership on the lives of the blind was illustrated in a letter from Berkeley professor Nelson Poloby and his wife Linda when they wrote: "For us, it was Chick's work in behalf of handicapped people that made a difference. Linda's father is a blind professional man; Chick's work helped him to make the contribution to his community that he has made and continues to make. Multiplied by the work of hundreds of others similarly situated, I cannot think of a memorial more in keeping with Chick's generosity of spirit."
Many letters acknowledged the role Mrs. tenBroek played in Dr. tenBroek's work for the National Federation of the Blind. Lois Boltin wrote: "He will be remembered for generations for the concrete ground work he laid to help blind people become independent and self-respecting citizens rather than being dependent and subservient to others. You can rejoice in the part you played in helping him to achieve this goal."
Continuing the work he had started was a reality that Dr. tenBroek had planned and trained the NFB leadership for. At the time of his death, Dr. Isabelle Grant was on a fact-finding tour of Africa for Dr. tenBroek and the International Federation of the Blind. In a condolence letter to Hazel tenBroek she wrote:
Chick's leadership will never die. He has left the legacy of inspiration, of direction, of fearlessness; and each of us cannot help but follow as our own limited intelligence and capabilities allow us. This is the best we can do. But the sum total of our efforts will, I am sure, be a fitting tribute to Chick, as we carry on the work he has outlined.
And so, Hazel, we all do our best to carry on, to fulfill the purpose in which Chick trained all of us, to work together with our fellow-blind, improve conditions where they need improving, and where we can be of service in the improvement.
Friends and Neighbors Remember a Brilliant Man and a Marriage of the Minds
Jacobus tenBroek was larger than life. His large physique and huge intellect coupled with his passion and sense of compassion led many of his friends and colleagues to call him a brilliant man. Leo Lowenthal, a former student and friend, wrote in his letter of condolence: "A room with Chick in it, whether it was his home, his office, his classroom, a meeting of friends, or the Senate floor, gained an aspect of brilliancy and, above all, of intellectual and moral integrity radiating from this excellent man. I don't know of anybody who was not immediately affected by the overpowering presence of this true leader and a totally-committed human being."
But Dr. tenBroek was equally known for his kindness and humanity. As recalled by neighbor Susan McCorkle, Dr. tenBroek always had time to chat with even his youngest neighbor:
Everyone on Shasta Road was proud to have Chick tenBroek as a neighbor. Others knew him as a great humanitarian and a fine teacher, but we who were lucky enough to live near him knew him simply as a big, kind man who always had time to say a few words to everyone, even the smallest children. As an eight year old, I did not feel at all strange stopping him on the street to demand what he thought of my new hairdo, a pony tail. And he did not feel at all strange patting my head all over very carefully to determine exactly what my new hairdo was before he said he found it very becoming.
His constant questioning and his sense of fairness will live on in all his students, and his neighbors will never forget him.
The marriage between Jacobus and Hazel tenBroek was a true partnership. In addition to being Dr. tenBroek's wife and the mother of his children, Hazel was also his reader and assistant in every aspect of his work. A condolence letter from Natalie Z. Davis commented on this marriage of the minds: "George and I will always be grateful that we knew him and you together. Yours was certainly `a marriage of the minds’ that nothing, not even death, can separate. Seeing you together was an inspiration and a joy. You were examples of gallantry, efficiency, and gaiety." The huge workload that she routinely undertook for Dr. tenBroek was seen as a source of solace to Hazel by Edith and Bill Nierenberg when they wrote: "He always kept you so well supplied with papers to be processed--that perhaps you will be so very busy the next couple of months you won't have the time to devote to feeling your loss."
Colleagues Remember a Shining Example of Achievement
Jacobus tenBroek was respected and admired by his colleagues at the University of California and in the legal and social welfare communities for his leadership, his ability to challenge ideas, his commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech, his cheerful personality, and his scholarship. Berkeley professor Tom Blaisdell wrote to Mrs. tenBroek:
When he joined our Political Science Department, he added a dimension which I had long tried to have introduced with nothing but failure to show for my efforts. He was unique in so many ways the size of his loss is hard to appraise. A replacement can only be a poor substitute.
For students he knew the value of disciplined learning. They appreciated it. For some of us he had ideas which often made us question our own conclusions--a great contribution in these days when so many of us are sure we are right.
His cheerful way of life will be missed around Barrows Hall. For me he often brightened a cloudy day.
Dr. tenBroek's leadership among the Berkeley faculty on issues of free speech and academic freedom were recognized by Professor Walter Friedlander when he wrote to Hazel: "[W]e of the faculty of the School of Social Welfare have for a very long time admired Professor tenBroek for his outstanding position of leadership in the academic community, standing courageously for his ethical conviction for democratic ideals, freedom of opinion and expression. His death deprives us all of his leadership which has meant so much to all liberal members of the faculty and students." Berkeley Chancellor Roger Heynes echoed: "He was a man of rare talent, dedication, and devotion to people and ideals. This campus has been left poorer by his passing, and I personally shall miss seeing him and talking to him and hearing from him. On each such encounter I came away challenged, and I know that his peers, his students, and all who knew him derived the same stimulation."
But Dr. tenBroek's impact in the academic and scholarly community reached far beyond the Berkeley campus. Phil C. Neal, dean at the University of Chicago Law School, wrote to Mrs. tenBroek: "I am sure you have some sense of how greatly Professor tenBroek was admired by the members of the faculty and throughout the legal academic world, for his immense scholarly contributions. He was a remarkable man, and his career has been, and will continue to be, a shining example of achievement. It is a great loss for our profession, and our own feeling of loss is keen indeed." The impact of Dr. tenBroek's legal scholarship on California social welfare law was described by Charley Miller with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California: "It is indeed sad that Dr. tenBroek passed away at a time when his theories were taking a firm hold on our society. I can attest to this fact in noting that there are presently three cases pending before this court which deal with the constitutionality of various sections of the California Welfare Code."
Jacobus tenBroek was a nationally recognized expert on social welfare. His leadership on the California State Social Welfare Board was recalled by Florette Pomeroy, who served on the Board with him: "His compassion, courage, and brilliance set him apart and above. The lives of untold numbers are better because he touched them." Ralph Goff, who was deputy director of the southern region of the California Department of Social Welfare, recalled: "During my thirty years with the State Department of Social Welfare, Jacobus was the brightest star that crossed the horizon. It was always stimulating to listen to him, and to tangle with him was certainly an experience one never forgot. It was indeed a high privilege to have known him, and he will be deeply missed by all of us."
Keeping the Legacy AliveThe hundreds of cards, letters, and telegrams received by the tenBroek family following the death of Jacobus tenBroek are a moving tribute to a man whose work as a teacher, legal scholar, and leader of the blind civil rights movement improved the lives of people around the world. They paint a portrait of a man of great intelligence, integrity, passion, compassion, and commitment who inspired both his students and fellow blind to dare to achieve. By making these and other documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Personal Papers collection available to the public, the National Federation of the Blind will continue to ensure that the legacy of Dr. tenBroek's work is not forgotten.