Part III: Plain Talk and Home Truths: Sewing the Seeds-Creating the Kernel Books

Nothing has had a more profound influence on the perception of blindness and blind people than the Kernel Books, edited by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. These little paperback volumes contain first-person accounts by blind people of their own experiences. Each book includes a brief introduction by the editor along with a narrative about a portion of his life and thought. There are many contributors to the Kernel Books, but the segments written by Dr. Jernigan have a special sparkle.

In 1996, 1997, and 1998, Dr. Jernigan incorporated the material from the Kernel Books that he had written into major addresses delivered at conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. He observed in one of these addresses that the Kernel Books have altered the perception of blindness and changed the socioeconomic structure of our society. The changes that have been caused by these little books constitute nothing less than a revolution. Included here are some of the introductions to these books and all of the autobiographical material describing the experiences of the author. In those instances in which the material from the Kernel Book is incorporated within a larger address, the addresses have been reprinted here. The 1997 speech is of particular interest since it combines a new method of philosophical understanding with the experiences depicted in the Kernel Books. This address is entitled "The Day After Civil Rights." Dr. Jernigan worked for most of his long life to promote civil rights for the blind. He was no less interested in this endeavor at the end of his life than he had been in earlier times.

Yet, he recognized that, though this work is essential, it is not sufficient for full integration or the most meaningful of lives. It is only one element among many. The writings from the Kernel Books speak for themselves from the heart of the man who wrote them. In 1991, the Kernel Books were initiated with What Color is the Sun, which included this "Editor’s Introduction" and Dr. Jernigan’s article, "Growing Up Blind in Tennessee During the Depression."


by Kenneth Jernigan

For at least twenty years I have been appearing on radio and television and in the newspapers as the spokesman of the National Federation of the Blind, and lately something has been happening with increased frequency which I probably should have anticipated but didn’t. Total strangers keep stopping me on the street or in the supermarket or airport to ask me about blindness. Well, not exactly about blindness as such, but about what it is like to be blind-about the everyday experiences and the ordinary happenings in the lives of blind people. I do the best I can to tell them, but usually neither they nor I have the time for me really to do it right. This book is an attempt to remedy that situation. Even so, I still don’t know that I have done it right, but at least it is better than a hurried attempt in a supermarket.

The persons who appear in the pages of the book are people that I know-friends, former students, colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind. Mostly they tell their own stories-stories of ordinary men and women who think about last night’s dinner, today’s taxes, and tomorrow’s hopes and dreams. These are people I think you would like to know, so I am introducing them to you. And I am also telling you a little about myself. When you have finished reading these personal accounts and reminiscences I hope you will have a better picture of what it is like to be blind and how blind people feel. Mostly we feel just about the same way you do.

Kenneth Jernigan

Baltimore, Maryland