by Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: The following is another in our series of historical documents in the Jacobus tenBroek Library collection.
Since November of 2010 the Braille Monitor has featured a series of special items from the archives at the Jacobus tenBroek Library. These have included documents as varied as Thurgood Marshall’s 1953 letter to NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek, Federationist Margaret Warren’s newsy letter to current President Marc Maurer in 1981, and most recently an endearing letter from a beloved guide dog in 1976 to past President Kenneth Jernigan. Each of these items provides a unique look into the history of the NFB, and each survives to this day because someone sent them to the archives. As a result the tenBroek Library is one of the leading resources on the organized blind movement in twentieth-century America and is undeniably the best resource on the history of the National Federation of the Blind.
Unfortunately, there are some gaps in our records. For decades the NFB Records Center, which was the predecessor of the archives here at the tenBroek Library, dutifully preserved the interactions between the national headquarters and NFB affiliates across the country. However, no effort was made systematically to collect the records that document the grassroots activities of affiliates and chapters until 2009. As a result pieces of state- and chapter-level history have been lost. But with your help we can begin to fill in some of the missing pieces.
The archives at the Jacobus tenBroek Library are committed to preserving the history of the NFB at all levels. Whether your files are from 1955 or 2010, if you have newsletters, announcements, meeting minutes, or significant correspondence that documents the history of your state affiliate or chapter, we ask that you contribute them to the NFB institutional records. Help us to ensure that the legacy of the Federation is well documented for future generations. Please contact NFB Archivist Anna Kresmer at <firstname.lastname@example.org> or call (410) 659-9314, ext. 2310, for more information.
The NFB has always been conscious of its place in history, so gathering and preserving its records and those of its affiliates is nothing new. This awareness is evident in Dr. tenBroek’s plea to NFB state historians in this letter from 1955. In hopes of publishing a comprehensive history of the NFB and the organized blind movement in time for the twentieth anniversary convention in 1960, he turned to Federationists for help. Sadly, the late 1950s proved to be a turbulent time for the NFB, and this book was not published, but the importance of tenBroek’s request is still applicable today. Here is what he wrote:
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
Office of the President
March 28, 1955
2652 Shasta Road
Berkeley 8, California
TO ALL STATE HISTORIANS
The following is intended to indicate the general scope of the state history and the character of data and materials to be collected for use in connection with the preparation of an over-all history of the National Federation of the Blind.
At this early stage of the development of the project, it is of course impossible to tell just how the state histories will be incorporated into the final work. It is believed therefore that we should prepare as complete state histories as possible and, after that has been done and other work on the over-all history has been completed, to determine how much state history to include and how to integrate it into the total work.
Each state historian should therefore:
It is expected that this work will take a good deal of time. We have therefore set as a general target date for the production of the final work the twentieth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, namely 1960. It is necessary, however, to begin collection of data immediately if we are to do a thorough-going and solid historical job.
The project has exciting possibilities. If successfully carried out, it will be not only the history of the blind movement in this country but the history of blindness in recent times in this country. It will reveal in ways which cannot be refuted the character of the democratic impulse which lies behind the claims of self-determination by the blind and which supports our organizations. It will be a public educational instrument which can be drawn upon to meet all sorts of Federation needs. It will above all tell the story of the accomplishments which the blind themselves have wrought.