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The decade of the sixties, said Kenneth Jernigan many years later, was almost the exact reverse of the fifties for the organized blind. It began in despair and ended in triumph. And he went on to recall: The Federation drew itself together, shook off the civil war, and began to rebuild. It was during the sixties that we lost our great leader, Dr. tenBroek, but he had done his work well. The progress continued. By the end of the decade we were bigger, stronger, better financed, and more united than we had ever been.
In truth the National Federation of the Blind during this decade underwent not only a recovery and revival but a renaissance. Out of the protracted struggle against the dissidents and enemies within in the crucible of civil war was forged a leaner movement with a sharper edge, a tougher hide, and a fiercer will. At times on the march, in the streets, on the picket lines it took on the appearance of an army. At the end of the decade, in a stirring speech at the 1969 convention banquet, Kenneth Jernigan evoked the spirit not just of reform but of revolution. The challenge is ours, he said, and the time is now. Our revolution will not wait, and it will succeed but only if we take the lead and take the risks. It is for us to persuade, to participate, to persevere, and to prevail and prevail we will. The time is now, and the challenge is real. I ask you, with all that the question implies: Will you join me on the barricades?
The forceful message which those words conveyed was the inspiration for a new generation of the organized blind the second National Federation of the Blind generation which in the course of the sixties, borne on the shoulders of their pioneering elders, came into maturity and authority within the movement. As the leader and spokesman of the first generation had been Jacobus tenBroek, so the leader and spokesman of the second generation was Kenneth Jernigan. (And for the third generation, not yet on the horizon, the leader and spokesman would be Marc Maurer.) Each of these blind leaders of the blind placed his stamp and left his mark, indelibly, upon the period and the movement; and while those imprints were closely akin and much alike in character, each bore distinguishing traits of personality and style, as well as of the time and the generation.
In an important sense, the new decade might be said to have begun not in 1960 but with the ending of the civil war and with the resignation (temporary, as it turned out) of President tenBroek in favor of a younger set of leaders. The first of these was John Taylor, who as First Vice President at the time of tenBroek's resignation in 1961 succeeded automatically to the presidency. (Perry Sundquist, a veteran leader in the movement, assumed the presidency briefly in 1962 after Taylor resigned for career reasons in the spring of that year.) The second of the youth brigade was Russell Kletzing, a California attorney who was elected President at the Detroit convention in 1962 and served until 1966 the landmark year in which Dr. tenBroek was restored to the helm of the movement he had founded (and was now fated to serve for just two more years before his death).
The third member of the generation of young Turks who were moving into positions of leadership during the early sixties was Kenneth Jernigan, then First Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind as well as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. By the end of the decade Jernigan was to succeed Dr. tenBroek as President and to retain the official leadership for a score of years. The future prominence could not have been foreseen in February, 1963, when the Blind American (temporary successor to the Braille Monitor) published a vivid biographical sketch of Jernigan under the title Profile of a Trailblazer. The article was authored by Anthony Mannino, executive secretary of the American Brotherhood for the Blind and a leader of the organized blind movement in California. In the light of later events which catapulted Jernigan into national and global leadership in the blindness field, Mannino's early profile takes on the added interest of a prophetical assessment of character and personality. Here is the text of the article:
by Anthony Mannino
(Editor's Note: Mr. Mannino is the executive secretary of the American Brotherhood for the Blind.)
Late in 1962, at the Iowa state budget hearings held by the newly-elected governor, one agency head presented the reports and estimates of his department so convincingly that on the following day his presentation was prominently featured by news reporters who had attended the hearings. The official who had so impressed his listeners was Kenneth Jernigan, director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, delivering the annual report and budget proposals of the commission. The achievements and plans to which he had given such forceful expression were the climax of a concentrated effort in accomplishing the formidable task accepted by this blind leader in the field of rehabilitation.
On May 6, 1958, a blind man was asked to assume direction of the programs for the blind of an entire state. After many years of efforts by the organized blind to gain consultation and a voice in programs for the blind, it fell to Ken Jernigan to face the double test of proving his own ability as well as the soundness of the philosophy of the organized blind with respect to rehabilitation and related services.
When Ken stepped into the job, Iowa was dead last in the nation in rehabilitation of the blind. Today it stands in the front ranks of the states in this essential work a leap forward accomplished in just four years under Ken's direction. His philosophy proclaims that the real problem of blindness is not loss of eyesight, but rather the misunderstanding and lack of information which accompany it. If a blind person has proper training and an opportunity to make use of it, blindness for him is only a physical nuisance. On the basis of his firm belief in these guiding precepts, Jernigan has rapidly built a state program geared to independence rather than dependency, to rehabilitation rather than resignation and dedicated to the proposition that blind people are inherently normal, potentially equal, and thoroughly competent to lead their own lives and make their own way in competitive society. And he has proved his case, with resounding success.
To understand the success of this bold program, and the man responsible for it, we must go back a generation into the hills of Tennessee. The Jernigan family had lived in Tennessee for years; but the time came in the l920s when economic pressures drove many of the back-country farmers into the cities. Kenneth's father was one of those who sought work in the factories in order to earn enough to return to his farm. He chose the automobile industry of Detroit; and it was there Ken was born in 1926.
The new baby had scarcely been made comfortable in his crib when the family moved back to the farm in Tennessee. Somehow, modern conveniences and motorized farm machinery had not found their way to this edge of the Cumberland plateau, which was only fifty miles southeast of Nashville and almost completely inhabited by Anglo-Saxon people. They still clung to their ancient culture and their more or less primitive dwellings. Even today, the mule-drawn plow has not entirely left the scene. Corn, hay, and milk were the chief agricultural products which gave this industrious folk their livelihood. Generation followed generation in the same pattern of life and endeavor.
But little Kenneth was different from the other folk. He had been born blind. However, this did not seem to create any great problem or concern in the Jernigan household. The child received a typical upbringing, and as he grew older he assumed a few of the many chores which had to be done about the farm. Some of the heavier tasks he shared with his older brother; but bringing in wood for the stove and fireplaces, and stacking board-lumber which his father had shaped, were among his earliest prideful accomplishments. Playmates were few, besides his brother, but they all included Kenneth in their games. He recalls that some of the games were modified a little so that he could join the fun.
In January, 1933, at six years of age, Kenneth was taken to Nashville to be enrolled at the Tennessee School for the Blind. It was like going into another world suddenly faced with what seemed gigantic buildings, strange foods, mysterious steam heat, and electricity. Accustomed to getting up early, the youngster wandered away from the sleeping quarters on the very first morning and proceeded to get utterly lost. Unable to find his way back to the dormitory, he finally gave up and stretched out on the floor of one of the rooms he had wandered into to wait until someone found him. It was a miserable beginning for a boy fresh from a comfortable home environment.
But Ken liked school and the world it opened up for his growing mind. Now he could read books, books, and more books, all by himself. In preschool years, he had always enjoyed having books read to him; and his first expressed desire at the school was to learn to read and write. He was not aware that it would have to be in Braille, and his first efforts to cope with the strange system were discouraging. In spite of his intense eagerness for reading and writing, Ken failed both of these subjects that first year. After that, he never failed either of them again. Today he is one of the fastest Braille readers in the country; and his love for books and reading burns as brightly as ever.
There is one phase of Ken's education at the T. S. B. which he now wishes might have been different or might not have been at all. That was the emphasis placed on the study of music. From his own experience as well as his adult observation, he holds the firm opinion that musical training should not be imposed upon students who show little interest or talent for it. But the tradition at the school in his day, as at most other schools for the blind even today, demanded that every student be drilled in some form of music, whatever his lack of talent or interest.
Tradition must be served; and Ken found himself spending long hours of tedious study with the violin, beginning with the second grade. After three years, he graduated into the band with a trombone; and yet was stuck with the violin for another two years. In the band he soon forsook the tailgate (trombone) in favor of the alto horn, then (in desperate hope) the cornet, then the baritone horn and finally a disastrous fling at the drums. He was quickly relegated back to the brass section on the assumption, apparently, that he might have little talent but possessed plenty of brass. At long last, recognizing his profound lack of aptitude, Kenneth resigned from the band. As he recalls the event today, it was a great relief not only to him but also to B. P. Gap Rice, the bandleader!
Meanwhile, he had dropped the violin lessons and shifted to the piano. Here, again, the effort turned out to be a waste of time because he was more interested in the mechanics of the piano than in its musical potential. When he resorted to taking the big instrument apart instead of playing it, the teacher was truly convinced that Ken would never be a musician.
The world had lost another hornblower but it gained a craftsman. In 1944, while still in high school, Ken started to make and sell furniture. Using the money he earned on his father's farm during the summers, he bought tools and hardware. The logs were on the farm and the sawmill nearby, so this was a practical venture for an ambitious young man. He proceeded to manufacture tables, smoking-stands, and floor lamps of original design. But he dared not attempt to do the staining and varnishing, because he had been led to believe that a blind person could not manage such delicate work. Only later did Ken learn that he could indeed do this work himself, and do it well.
This experience furnished further proof to Ken Jernigan that the blind individual must avoid the pitfalls of premature acceptance of realistic advice as to the limitations of his abilities and capabilities. He firmly believes that orientation centers for the blind can render a most important service if they will teach and practice the basic truth that, given the opportunity, the average blind person can hold the average job in the average business or industry.
Young Mr. Jernigan graduated from high school in 1945 and immediately petitioned the state rehabilitation service for the chance to prepare himself for a career in law. He was advised against it. That fall, after a rugged six-week bout with appendicitis, he matriculated at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookesville. He did not find there all the encouragement he needed and hoped for; but the now strong and independent young man who had already taken a whirl at professional wrestling was not to be talked into negative horizons or limited objectives. His hunger for knowledge was altogether too compelling and his love of books too deep. His scholastic ability soon produced high grades, and the pattern of his college life was formed.
But it was not all study and lessons. Throwing himself into campus activities from the outset, Ken was soon elected to office in his class organization and to important positions in other student clubs. The college debating team especially attracted his attention, and he took part in some 25 inter-collegiate debates. He became president of the Speech Activities Club and a member of Pi Kappa Delta speech fraternity. In 1948, at the Southeastern Conference of the Pi Kappa Delta competition held at the University of South Carolina, Ken won first prize in extemporaneous speaking and original oratory.
In his junior year he was nominated as one of two candidates for student-body president. He lost in a very close election, but the very next year regained his political prestige by backing his roommate for a campus-wide office and winning. In his senior year at Tennessee Tech, he was named to the honored list of Who's Who in Colleges and Universities.
During his undergraduate days Ken started a vending business by selling candy, cigarettes, and chewing-gum out of his room. Later on he purchased a vending machine and, with permission gained from the college president, installed it in the science building. Before finishing college he had expanded the business to an impressive string of vending machines placed in other buildings. Upon graduation, Ken sold this profitable business to a fellow student, an ambitious sophomore named John Taylor today the director of rehabilitation with the Iowa Commission for the Blind and a past President of the National Federation of the Blind.
After receiving his B. A. in social science, with a minor in English, from T.P.I., Ken went directly for graduate work to the Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. There he majored in English and minored in history. This time his campus activities were centered upon the literary magazines. He accomplished a great deal of writing of articles and editorials, and became editor of a new literary publication. Meanwhile, he received his Master of Arts degree in the winter quarter of 1949, but remained to finish the school year with further studies.
The following fall young Jernigan returned to the Tennessee School for the Blind, this time as a teacher in the high school English department. The renewed personal contact with blind students, their aspirations and problems, stirred his determination to give them counseling to the best of his ability and toward bringing out the best of their abilities. Although he had achieved success with his own education, it was not in the field he really wanted to pursue. He could not forget that before entering college his deep desire to become an attorney had been smashed as not feasible by a traditionally-minded rehabilitation officer. Ken discovered later too late that the rehabilitation man had been far from correct in his stand. Blind persons were then studying law, others were already lawyers, and the field of law was not closed but wide open to trained blind individuals.
Ken vows today that he will never make this mistake in giving counsel to blind students. We in rehabilitation have no right to make the choice for anybody as to what his vocation should be, when that person is eager and motivated to try in a field of his choice, he maintains.
After he had mastered the routines of teaching and settled into various school activities, Ken became interested in organizational work with the blind. He joined the Nashville chapter of the then Tennessee Association for the Blind (which later became the Tennessee Federation of the Blind). He was elected to the vice presidency of the state affiliate in 1950, and to the presidency in 1951. Though he was extremely busy, Ken found time for several courses at summer school and later branched out into selling life insurance. This latter endeavor proved to be as profitable as teaching and soon became a rewarding part-time job. Meanwhile, through his participation in organizations of the blind, Ken began to have his first contacts with national figures in the organized blind movement. Outstanding among these was Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, founder and President of the National Federation of the Blind.
While Ken enjoyed teaching at the Tennessee School, he wanted to do more in this expanding field. In 1953 he left the school to accept a position at the Oakland Orientation Center in California. His work, especially in counseling and guidance, became more intensified through the closer contact with persons trying to regain their rightful place in society. His interest in the National Federation was also sharpened by the many projects undertaken for that organization. One of the major projects in which he played an important role while in California was the campaign to gain recognition and the right to credentials for blind teachers in that state. Stemming from this great initial effort, there are now almost 50 blind teachers employed in California through the teachings, guidance, advice, and encouragement received from Kenneth Jernigan. When he left Oakland to accept the leadership of the Iowa Commission for the Blind, the people who knew him were confident that he would fulfill that challenging assignment with outstanding success.
With the zest of a crusader, Ken plunged into the task of building up the Iowa programs for the blind. He found the commission housed in small and poorly equipped quarters, with a budget of only twenty thousand dollars. The entire staff consisted of six people. It was in all respects a dismal picture and a bleak prospect. But it did not remain so for long. Step by step, Ken skillfully planned and expanded the program, services, staff, and budget of the Commission. He argued up and down the state and won growing support for his programs. Today the Commission is housed in a fully equipped six-story building, serving more than four thousand blind Iowans. A budget of $400,000 is financing programs of rehabilitation, orientation, home teaching, home industries, vending stands, Braille library, and many other related services. Each of these programs is characterized by the dynamic director.
In a way, with each year of experience in work for the blind, Ken gained as much as he gave. With each passing year he has become more convinced that blindness need not serve as a hindrance in virtually any vocation. Admitting that sight is an advantage, he hastens to point out that there are numerous alternative techniques which, learned and utilized properly, provide the blind person with the equalizer.
Kenneth Jernigan has worked for what he believes in and his preachment has been practiced with driving energy. Speaking with firm conviction, he declares: If I were asked to sum up my philosophy of blindness in one sentence, I would say It is respectable to be blind . Few people would deny this in the abstract; but when we analyze what they really believe, we find that most of them are at first ashamed of blindness.
This blind leader is convinced that the dominant attitudes of society toward blindness place unwarranted limitations upon the blind person. Since social attitudes, unlike the physical fact of blindness, are open to change, he maintains that one of our principal functions should be to encourage proper attitudes toward blindness and the blind. Adequate knowledge, understanding, and recognition of talents must be brought to supplant traditional preconceptions, prejudices, and generalizations about the blind. From a climate of healthy social attitudes will emerge the opportunities and full rights of citizenship which should be the birthright of the blind. And they, in turn, will then carry their full and proper share of the responsibility of free and independent citizens in our democratic society.
At the 1963 National Convention in Philadelphia attended by some 600 Federationists an unprecedented event took place which served to underline the rising stature of Kenneth Jernigan in the movement. Although it was the custom then and later for the Federation's President to deliver the banquet address given the symbolic and ceremonial significance of that annual oration in this year the honor was bestowed upon the First Vice President. Rising to the occasion, Jernigan presented a deeply considered philosophical statement which was to remain after a quarter of a century among the most decisive formulations on record of the profound difference between the affirmative creed of the organized blind and the custodial doctrines of the blindness system. Following is the text of Jernigan's address, Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic, which was first delivered at the banquet of the 1963 National Convention in Philadelphia.
Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic
The final years of the tenBroek era years in which Kenneth Jernigan, as First Vice President, came to play an increasingly vital role were characterized by innovation and progress in a number of program areas. It was in 1964 that the National Federation of the Blind moved conspicuously onto the world stage through its inauguration of the International Federation of the Blind, and during this decade the numbers and participation of foreign delegates at the National Federation's conventions began to increase significantly. (The international role of the National Federation of the Blind will be discussed in Chapter Nine.)
One of the truly extraordinary events in all of Federation history still wondrous to recall a quarter of a century later was the silver anniversary convention of 1965, which was held (as luck and good planning would have it) in Washington, D.C. That significant site permitted the Federation's leaders to line up over 100 members of Congress, both senators and representatives, as banquet guests and for Kenneth Jernigan, as master of ceremonies, to draw a thirty-second speech from every one of them. The Vice President of the United States, Hubert Humphrey, was among those who addressed this most glittering of conventions; so was Robert F. Kennedy, then a junior senator from New York; and so too was John McCormack, the venerable Speaker of the House of Representatives and one of the most powerful men in government of his generation.
Something of the splendor of this twenty-fifth annual convention was conveyed by an article the following month in the Braille Monitor, which appeared under the heading `The Week That Was.'
For nearly one thousand blind Americans and their families, the week of July 4, 1965, will long be a time to remember with pleasure, with purpose, and with pride.
For that was the week that was: the week of the Washington convention, magnificently commemorating the Silver Anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind.
The week of Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, announcing to delegates in ringing tones that, "The proof of your achievement is that what once had been private goals your goals have now become public official goals, our goals as a nation."
The week of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the Federation's gift volume in his hands, pledging to carry on the profound commitment of his brother John F. Kennedy to the rights of the blind to speak for themselves and to be heard.
The week of Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, delivering the convention's keynote address, commending Federationists for their spirit of independence, their implementation of the constitutional right to organize, and the effectiveness of their advice to Congress on legislation affecting the blind.
The week of our own President Russell Kletzing, presiding over historic events and helping to make them so by his own performance and speeches.
The week of Senator Vance Hartke, Senator Frank Moss, Congressman Walter S. Baring, and Congressman Phillip Burton, one by one narrating their personal hopes and collective efforts to raise the standards of aid and opportunity for the nation's blind.
That was the week that was: the week of television cameras pointed like howitzers at the speaker's stand from both sides of the packed auditorium, of news reporters and photographers circling about the platform, scribbling notes and popping flashbulbs of microphones clustered like a metal bouquet on the rostrum of radio interviews and TV broadcasts beamed to all parts of the country.
That was the week that was: the week of the Hartke demonstration, a spontaneous migration of hundreds of Federationists to the Capitol in order to lend graphic support to the fight for the Hartke bill then in contest on the Senate floor a fight which was rewarded with overwhelming Senate passage of the historic measure on July 9.
That was the week that was: the week of the banquet of banquets the monumental convention dinner which brought together 600 Federationists and 103 members of Congress in a single room for a single purpose with Representatives and Senators rising in turn for an impromptu 30-second speech each one commanded, clocked, and congratulated by a masterly if unceremonious Master of Ceremonies, First Vice President Kenneth Jernigan a stirring occasion made still more memorable by the address of President Emeritus Jacobus tenBroek, which was hailed by one Congressman present as the best speech I have ever heard bar none.
That was the week of social commingling and reunion: of community sings around the piano in the vast Hospitality Room of bus loads of conventioneers complete with children, dogs, and television cameramen touring the Washington and Lincoln monuments, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Kennedy grave at Arlington a week of gatherings by the fountain in the Mayflower Hotel lobby, of convivial tables in the Presidential Room and smaller groups consorting in the Rib Room, and of expeditions to Scholl's Colonial Cafeteria of exhibits in the Cabinet Room, open house in the National Convention suite, and private parties everywhere a week of festivity, fellowship, and Federationism.
That was the week of international federation: of speeches and panel discussions featuring overseas leaders of the worldwide blind movement from Germany, Equador, Saudi Arabia, England, and Korea along with our own famed internationalists, Dr. tenBroek and Isabelle Grant.
That was the week of the Leadership Seminar: a two-day conclave following the convention of some 60 stalwart Federationists from numerous states, living and studying together at the University of Maryland's Center for Adult Education reviewing, debating, and absorbing an array of programs and procedures looking toward leadership and democratic organization among the blind.
That was the week of action and accomplishment: of the President's Report, the White Cane report, the Washington congressional report, and the state reports on the progress of legislation of important resolutions on a dozen political and social fronts of meetings general and special: meetings of blind merchants, of teachers, of various national committees the week of succession of speeches and discussions tackling concrete problems and programs, bringing the issues into the open, closing the ranks on policy decisions and initiatives, moving the Federation onward.
That was the week that was the week that is a landmark in the history of the organized blind the week that will be remembered by all who were there with pleasure, with purpose, and with pride.
Another report on the Washington convention of 1965 this one in the form of a prose poem capturing the highlights of the memorable week through a succession of striking images appeared in the Monitor under the byline of Floyd S. Field, a veteran New York Federationist with the soul of an artist. His narrative ode, All's Quiet Tonight Along the Potomac, follows:
by Floyd S. Field, President, Niagara Chapter, Empire State Association of the Blind
All's quiet tonight along the Potomac!
Where Generals McClellan and Mead reviewed their troops: where General Grant marched his victorious army past the White House: where the Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock played his dirge as President Andrew Johnson bade farewell to the martyred Lincoln when his body left the railroad station on the first Pullman on his sad trip back to Illinois.
All this a century ago: one hundred years of winter's snow on Lincoln's grave, as all heroes of Blue and Gray are now laid peacefully away.
All's quiet tonight along the Potomac!
Where five-score and no years later another President Johnson seeks rest in Texas as the twenty-fifth annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind concludes its conclave at the Mayflower: where for one hour Toastmaster Ken Jernigan ruled members of Congress with an iron hand, allowing each the unheardof cloture time of thirty seconds and bringing out humor most of us thought impossible. I yield you thirty seconds, Mr. Congressman and one replied: With Ken as Speaker, the House would be in adjournment by March. Where founder Jacobus tenBroek told in a masterful speech of the first twenty-five years of the National Federation of the Blind: of its establishment and battles, its victories and defeats, its progress and firm foundation.
All's quiet tonight along the Potomac!
In the ballroom where President Russell Kletzing presided; and where Convention Chairman Ken Jernigan gave daily prizes to those present at the right time; and where International President tenBroek and our General of the Foreign Armies, Isabelle Grant, told of progress of the independent blind around the world, of Fatima Shah, in Pakistan, too busy serving her fellow blind to hold her new grandchild on her lap, and of how we may assist her and others.
All's quiet tonight along the Potomac!
Where the featured tour brought busloads of blind people and guides to visit the Lincoln Memorial; the Arlington National Cemetery, where they saw the Changing of the Guard and with special permission used the path of the Kennedy family in visiting the grave of the martyred President, standing there in reverence; and the 555-foot monument to the Father of Our Country while others toured the Capitol, the Senate chambers, the Smithsonian Institution, and even tried to converse with life-size dummies in the famous wax museum.
All's quiet along the Potomac!
Where the annual financial report was distributed and made less dry by the distribution of water by members of a chapter named for another mighty river to NFB officials, foreign visitors, and presidents of state affiliates even putting a few drops in the Mayflower fountain.
And thus concluded the twenty-fifth anniversary convention of the Federation said to have had the very highest esprit de corps its delegates returning to resume their work for the blind in Hawaii and Alaska, in Maine and Texas, in California and West Virginia, and in a total of 36 sovereign states but with many taking time to attend a seminar on problems of the sightless at the University of Maryland. And as the honor guard is changed regularly at Arlington; and the eternal flame, kindled by Jackie, burns steadily on the grave of the late President; and until hordes of Shriners take over our nation's Capital:
All's quiet tonight along the Potomac!
The silver anniversary convention of 1965 with its parade of statesmen, its congressional chorus, its week-long flow of rhetoric was above all a symphony of words. In this regard the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind notably Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, and Russell Kletzing found themselves addressing the convention, not in competition but in concert with some of the most illustrious public figures of the age: Hubert Humphrey, Bobby Kennedy, John McCormack, and many others. Yet, by common consensus of the delegates and convention guests, none who spoke during those memorable sessions was quite as impressive in appearance, as eloquent in delivery, or as powerful in impact as their founder and President Emeritus, Dr. tenBroek. Something of the effect which his banquet address had upon the audience (at least a hundred of whom were hardened politicians) may be gleaned from the response of one Congressman, Edward R. Royball of California, who attended the dinner: This was the most outstanding speech I have ever heard, he said. May I suggest that it be written up and sent to every member of Congress, both House and Senate, to every member of every state legislature, and to every member of our city councils throughout the country. I want them all to be proud of whatever contribution they have made to this magnificent movement.
Dr. tenBroek's speech, "The Federation at Twenty-Five: Postview and Preview," clearly represented the summation of his career as leader of the organized blind movement. While it was not formally a valedictory (he would deliver two more banquet addresses in succeeding years), there was about this oration an air of finality and the reflective quality of a testament. In assessing the quarter century of collective achievement and struggle in placing the work of the Federation in historical perspective Jacobus tenBroek was at the same time putting his own house in order.
Viewed in that context, "The Federation at Twenty-Five" stands as a symbolic watershed an emblem of transition between the generation of the pioneers, embodied in tenBroek himself, and the oncoming generation of builders and planners represented on that platform by the long-time disciple who introduced him to the banquet audience, Kenneth Jernigan. (And Jernigan's own speech of introduction conveyed a similar message in its reference to the spiritual side of the movement and of the incarnation of that spirit in the person of Dr. tenBroek.)
Here is the complete text of the banquet speech delivered by Dr. tenBroek at the 25th annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind held in Washington, D.C., in July, 1965:
by Jacobus tenBroek
Oscar Wilde tells us: Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. We must approach the task of celebration and review with some pause and some humility, neither exaggerating our importance nor underestimating it. It is my task in this spirit to capsulize our history, convey our purposes, and contemplate our future.
The career of our movement has not been a tranquil one. It has grown to maturity the hard way. The external pressures have been unremitting. It has been counseled by well-wishers that all would be well and it has learned to resist. It has been attacked by agencies and administrators and learned to fight back. It has been scolded by guardians and caretakers and learned to talk back. It has cut its eyeteeth on legal and political struggle, sharpened its wits through countless debates, broadened its mind and deepened its voice by incessant contest. Most important of all, it has never stopped moving, never stopped battling, never stopped marching toward the goals of security, equality, and opportunity for all the nation's blind. It has risen from poverty to substance, from obscurity to global reputation.
It is fitting that the anniversary of our own independence movement should coincide with that of the nation itself. The two revolutions were vastly different in scope but identical in principle. We too memorialize a day of independence independence from a wardship not unlike that of the American colonists. Until the advent of the National Federation of the Blind, the blind people of America were taken care of but not represented; protected but not emancipated; seen but rarely heard.
Like Patrick Henry on the eve of revolution, we who are blind knew in 1940 that if we wished to be free, if we meant to gain those inestimable privileges of participation for which we had so long yearned, then we must organize for purposes of self-expression and collective action; then we must concert to engage in a noble struggle.
In that spirit the National Federation of the Blind was founded. In that spirit it has persevered. In that spirit it will prevail.
When the founding fathers of the Federation came together at Wilkes-Barre, to form a union, they labored in a climate of skepticism and scorn. The experts said it couldn't be done; the agencies for the blind said it shouldn't be done. When the blind lead the blind, declared the prophets of doom, all shall fall into the ditch.
But the Federation was born without outside assistance. It stood upright without a helping hand. It is still on its feet today.
At the outset we declared our independence. In the past 25 years we have established it. Today we may say that the National Federation of the Blind has arrived in America and is here to stay. That is truly the new outlook for the blind.
We have not reached our present standing, as all of you know, by inertia and idleness. The long road of our upward movement is divided into three phases corresponding to the first decade, the second decade, and the third half-decade of our existence as an organization. Each of these three periods, though a part of a continuum, has had a different emphasis and a different character. Let us look at each of them.
The Federation was not born with a silver spoon in its mouth but, like the nation itself, it was born with the parchment of its principles in its hand. Our basic philosophy and purposes even most of our long-range programs existed full-panoplied at our origin. We were dedicated to the principles of security with freedom; of opportunity without prejudice; of equality in the law and on the job. We have never needed to alter or modify those goals, let alone compromise them. We have never faltered in our confidence that they are within our reach. We have never failed to labor for their implementation in political, legal, and economic terms.
The paramount problems of our first decade, the 1940s, were not so much qualitative as quantitative; we had the philosophy and the programs, but we lacked the membership and the means. The workers were few and the cupboard was bare.
Each month as we received our none too bountiful salary as a young instructor at the University of Chicago Law School, Hazel and I would distribute it among the necessities of life: food, clothing, rent, Federation stamps, mimeograph paper and ink, other supplies. So did we share our one-room apartment. The mimeograph paper took far more space in our closet than did our clothes. We had to move the mimeograph machine before we could let down the wall bed to retire at night. If on a Sunday we walked along Chicago's lake front for an hour, four or five fewer letters were written, dropping our output for that day to fewer than twenty-five.
The decade of the forties was a time of building: and build we did, from a scattering of seven state affiliates at our first convention to more than four times that number in 1950. It was a time of pioneering: and pioneer we did, by searching out new paths of opportunity and blazing organizational trails where no blind man had before set foot. It was a time of collective self-discovery and self-reliance: of rising confidence in our joint capacity to do the job to hitch up our own wagon train, and hitch it up we did.
In the decade of the forties we proved our organizational capacity, established our representative character, initiated legislative programs on the state and national levels, and spoke with the authority and voice of the blind speaking for themselves. In these very terms the decade of the fifties was a time both of triumph and travail. The triumph was not unmixed but the travail was passing.
Our numbers escalated to a peak of forty-seven statewide affiliates with membership running to the tens of thousands. Our resources multiplied through a campaign of fundraising. Our voice was amplified with the inauguration of the Braille Monitor as a regular publication in print, Braille, and tape, which carried the word of Federationism to the farthest parts of the Nation and many distant lands.
With the funds to back us up, with a broad base of membership behind us, with constructive programs of opportunity and enlargement, with growing public recognition and understanding, the Federation in the fifties galvanized its energies along an expanding front. We sent teams of blind experts into various states, on request of the governors, to prepare master plans for the reform of their welfare services to the blind. We aided our state affiliates in broad programs of legislative and administrative improvement in welfare and rehabilitation. We participated in opening the teaching profession to qualified blind teachers in a number of states. We assisted in bringing to completion the campaign to secure white cane laws in all of the states so that blind men might walk abroad anywhere in the land sustained by a faith justified by law. We shared with others the credit for infusing into federal welfare the constructive objective of self-care and self-support, progressive improvements in the aid grant and matching formula, and the addition of disability insurance. Over the unflagging opposition of the Social Security Administration, we secured the acceptance by Congress, in progressive amounts, of the principle of exempt income for blind aid recipients; at first temporary, and finally permanent permission for Pennsylvania and Missouri to retain their separate and rehabilitative systems of public assistance; and we began to lay the groundwork by which our blind workers in the sheltered shops might secure the status and rights of employees. We pushed, pulled, and persuaded the civil service into first modifying, then relaxing, and finally scrapping its policy of discrimination against blind applicants for the public service.
In these enterprises, as against the doctrinaire, aloof resistance of administration, we had the cordial good will, practical understanding, and humane regard of an ever-growing number of Congressmen.
All of a sudden, in the furious fifties, the National Federation of the Blind was very much noticed. Our organizations became the objects of intense attention if rarely of affection on the part of the agencies, administrators, and their satellite groups which had dominated the field.
As the organized blind movement grew in affluence and in influence, as affiliates sprang up in state after state, county after county, across the land, as a groundswell of protest rose against the dead ends of sheltered employment and segregated training, of welfare programs tied to the poor law and social workers bound up in red tape, the forces of custodialism and control looked down from their lighthouses and fought back.
The National Federation of the Blind, said its President in 1957, stands today an embattled organization. Our motives have been impugned; our purposes reviled; our integrity aspersed; our representative character denied. Plans have been laid, activities undertaken, and concerted actions set in motion for the clear and unmistakable purpose of bringing about our destruction. Nothing less is sought than our extinction as an organization.
No Federationist who lived through that decade can forget how the battle was joined in the historic struggle for the right of self-expression and free association. The single most famous piece of legislation our movement has produced one which was never passed by Congress but which made its full weight felt and its message known throughout the world of welfare and the country of the blind was the Kennedy-Baring Bill.
It is fitting that John F. Kennedy, then the junior senator from Massachusetts, was a sponsor of that bill of rights for the blind, who gave his name and voice to the defense of our right to - organize.
Eight years ago he rose in the Senate to introduce and speak for his bill to protect the right of the blind to self-expression. He told how some 43 state associations of blind persons had become federated into a single nationwide organization, the National Federation of the Blind. He declared: It is important that these views be expressed freely and without interference. It is important that these views be heard and considered by persons charged with responsibility. He pointed out that in various communities this freedom had been prejudiced by a few professional workers in programs for the blind. He urged that our blind citizens be protected against any exercise of this kind of influence or authority to interfere with their freedom of self-expression through organizations of the blind.
The Kennedy Bill was simple and sweeping in its purposes: to insure to the blind the right to organize without intimidation; and to insure to the blind the right to speak and to be heard through systematic means of consultation with the responsible agencies of government.
That bill of rights was not enacted; but it gained its ends in other ways. Lengthy and dramatic public hearings were held by a committee of Congress, at which dozens of blind witnesses both expert and rank-and-file testified to the extent of coercion and pressure brought against them by the forces hostile to their independence. Little Kennedy bills were introduced in a number of state legislatures and enacted by some. The forces of opposition called off their attack upon the organized blind and beat a strategic retreat.
Meanwhile, in that second decade, the Federation faced another bitter struggle within its own house. Not all Federationists were happy with the way the movement was going. There were a few who were decidedly soft on custodialism, over friendly to the agencies which opposed us. There were others with a burning passion for leadership and office, an ambition which burned the deeper as it burned in vain. There were still others whose grievances were personal; real enough to them if not substantial in fact. All of these factors combined in the fifties to form a temporary crisis of confidence and collaboration.
But then, as suddenly as it had begun, the civil turmoil ended. Those who had desired power for their own ends or for itself, who had sought to change the character and officers of the movement, departed to form their own organizations. Shaken in its unity, depleted in resources, diminished in membership, the Federation began the hard task of rebuilding and rededication.
That task has been the primary assignment of the sixties, and today, at the halfway point, we may report that it has been accomplished. During the five years past we have regained stability, recovered unity, and preserved democracy.
We have found new and dynamic leadership, in the person of a President imbued with youth and creative vigor. We have regained our fund raiser and with him has come the prospect of renewed resources. We have restored and rejuvenated the Braille Monitor, as not only the voice but the clarion call of the federated blind. We have reached across the seas, extending the hand of brotherhood and the vision of Federationism to blind people the world over through the International Federation of the Blind.
We have made new friends yes, and found new champions in the Congress of the United States and in the legislatures of the states. And in so doing we have brightened the vistas of hope and opportunity not only for half a million blind Americans but for all the handicapped and deprived who rely upon their government for a hand up rather than a handout.
And in this new decade of the sixties, we of the Federation are reaching toward another base of understanding and support. We intend to carry our case and our cause, not only to the lawmakers in Congress but to the judges in the courts as well: for it is in their tribunals that new pathways of progress are being cleared, as the result of a happily evolving concept which holds that the great principles of the Constitution among them liberty, dignity, privacy, and equality must be brought down off the wall and made real in the lives of all our citizens with all deliberate speed.
The organized blind have traveled far in the past quarter century. The road ahead will not be easy. But the road is never easy for the blind traveler; every step is a challenge, every independent advance is a conquest. The movement of the organized blind in society is like the movement of the blind person in traffic: in both cases the gain is proportionate to the risk. Let us adventure together.
It was Theodore Roosevelt who said that the sign of real strength in a nation is that it can speak softly and carry a big stick. The sign of strength in our movement is that we speak vigorously and carry a white cane.
Whatever may be the challenges to come whatever the opposition to be converted or defeated, whatever the problems of maintaining internal democracy and external drive, whatever the difficulties of activating successful but indifferent blind, whatever the slow progress and temporary setbacks in achieving our ultimate goals our experience and accomplishments of a quarter of a century tell us one thing: we can prevail!
And we shall prevail!
We have prevailed over the limitations of blindness, in our lives and in our movement. We shall prevail over the handicap of blindness in all its forms: not the physical disability, which is an act of nature that may not be repealed, but the social handicap which is an act of men that men may counteract.
We have prevailed, in our movement and our minds, over the myth of the helpless blind man. We shall prevail over that myth of helplessness in the minds of all who have sight but not vision.
We have prevailed over the foredooming conclusion that the blind are ineducable, that lack of sight means loss of mind, and over the only slightly less foredooming conclusion that the blind can be taught but only the rudiments of academe and rudest of crafts. We shall prevail over every arbitrary restriction and exclusion inhibiting the fullest development of mind and skill of every blind person.
We have prevailed over the legal stricture that the blind should not mix and mingle with the public in public places but should confine their movement to the rocking chair. We shall prevail over the lingering concept in the law of torts that the white cane and white cane laws should not be given full credence and that blind persons are automatically guilty of contributory negligence whenever an accident befalls them.
We have prevailed over some of the myriad social discriminations against the blind in hotels, in renting rooms, houses, and safety deposit boxes, in traveling alone, in blood banks, in playing at gambling tables, in jury duty, and serving as a judge, in purchasing insurance, in release from the penitentiary on parole, in holding student body offices, in marriage laws and customs. We shall prevail over the whole sorry pattern which is no less vicious because it is sustained by the best of motives.
We have prevailed over the notion that the blind are capable only of sheltered employment. We shall prevail over the institution of the sheltered workshop itself as a proper place for any blind person capable of competitive employment.
We have prevailed against the exclusion of qualified blind workers in a number of fields of competitive employment. We shall prevail over such discrimination in every calling and career.
We have prevailed over the principle of welfare aid as a mere palliative for those in distress, without built-in incentives to help them out of that distress. We shall prevail over the stubborn remnants of the poor-law creed the means test, the liens pest, the requirement of residence, the concept of relatives' responsibility wherever they rear their Elizabethan heads in the statutes of the states and nation.
We have prevailed over the obstacles to communication and communion among the blind of America the physical distances, the psychological differences, the lack of devices for writing and talking which have isolated us from one another. We shall prevail over the greater obstacles to communication and affiliation among the blind people of the world we shall carry Federationism to all the nations.
We shall prevail because we have demonstrated to the world and to ourselves that the blind possess the strength to stand together and to walk alone; the capacity to speak for themselves and to be heard with respect; the resolute determination of a common purpose and a democratic cause; the faith that can move mountains and mount movements!
Twenty-five years a quarter of a century how much time is that? In the perspective of eternity, it is an incalculable and imperceptible fraction. In the chronology of the universe, it is less than an instant. In the eye of God, it is no more than a flash. In the biography of a social movement, based on justice and equality, it is a measurable segment. In the life of a man say from his thirtieth to his fifty-fifth year it encompasses the best years, the very prime, when experience, energy, and intelligence mingle in their most favorable proportions, before which he is too young, and after which he is too old. As a man who spent those twenty-five best years of life in and with the Federation, I have few regrets, immense pride, and boundless hope for the future.
Thus spoke Dr. tenBroek in summation of the first quarter century of the organized blind movement in America, and of his own career as its founder and prime mover. His speech was the capstone of a convention singularly graced by the presence of public figures, many of whom were of national prominence and a few of whom were already of historic stature. One of the latter was Robert Kennedy, younger brother of the slain President, who in turn would be assassinated three years later during his own campaign for the presidency. Then a junior senator from New York, Kennedy was at the National Federation of the Blind convention to receive for the Kennedy Memorial Library a special award and other memorabilia honoring the late President for his role as a champion of the organized blind in their struggle for the right to organize. This is how the Braille Monitor reported the younger Kennedy's appearance before the convention and his brief acceptance speech:
When he had received the plaque and books from the Federation's President, Senator Kennedy stood silently for what seemed a long moment, opening one volume after another and swiftly scanning the contents while the warm applause from the audience of around 1,000 persons rose and then slowly died away. When he spoke it was obviously without the aid of notes or text; he spoke deliberately, softly, but with the familiar Kennedy inflection and the unmistakable Kennedy grace.
I want to just tell you, the Senator began, how appreciative and how grateful I am to you for this presentation to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library. As I look over these books with your names in them the documents on the right of the blind to organize, and then the correspondence that President Kennedy had with some of your officers it brings back to my mind once again the strong feeling of affection and admiration that President Kennedy had for you and for your efforts both after he became President, and prior to that time when he was a senator from the state of Massachusetts.
A Greek philosopher once wrote; `What joy is there in day that follows day, some swift, some slow, with death the only goal?' What we are interested in those of you that are here, and those of us who are in the Senate of the United States, who feel strongly about this problem is to make sure that you can live out your lives making a contribution to society, and live your lives in dignity.
I think back to the time when I was Attorney General, he went on. Two of the best lawyers in the Civil Rights Division, two of the lawyers who did almost more than anyone else to bring rights to all of our citizens, were persons who were blind. It might come as a surprise to many people in the United States that the man in charge of surveying and studying the records within the Civil Rights Division records that have to be so carefully appraised that all this was done under the direction and control of a man who is blind.
So I know from personal experience what kind of a contribution those who are blind can make what a difference they can make in a department of the government, what a difference they can make in an agency, what a difference they can really make in industry and labor.
So I join with you, the Senator concluded, first in thanking you for your recognition of President Kennedy's interest in you and your organization. And I also say that that interest is not ended: that this is a recognition of the past because of what we intend to accomplish in the future.
And in that effort, in what you are trying to do both as individuals and as officers of this organization I want to pledge to you the help and assistance of the junior senator from the state of New York. Thank you very much.
Another memorable moment in the course of the historic 1965 convention occurred when Hubert Humphrey, then Vice President of the United States, was honored in a special ceremony as recipient of the Federation's Newel Perry Award. In receiving the award Humphrey reminded the delegates that this was his third meeting with the organized blind: Eighteen years ago, as mayor ofMinneapolis, I welcomed your members to that great city for your seventh annual convention. Five years ago, as a U.S. Senator from Minnesota, I attended another very enthusiastic convention your state convention in Minnesota. And today I am proud to meet with you again, proud to receive your plaque, to greet so many old, dear friends, and I hope to make new ones.
Vice President Humphrey then said: Today the nation is fulfilling many of the hopes, yes, the visions, of your own Federation and of other pioneering organizations. Your great founder Jacobus tenBroek had this vision. He had a gift of foresight which others who had the blessing of physical sight did not possess. Your Federation has compiled a remarkable and fruitful record nationally, in the states, cities, and rural areas. You have brought hope to countless thousands of the blind, where before there had been so much hopelessness. You have encouraged self-help by the blind in place of dependency. Your Federation has taken many steps forward. You have come a long way. And I regard it as a great honor to have walked with you and worked with you. Long may the Federation flourish in its service, in its leadership. Long may the courageous blind help to lead a courageous America to a better life for all.
With those words, and waving aloft his Newel Perry plaque, Hubert Humphrey took leave of the Washington convention giving way to a parade of other orators and luminaries. Among them was the Federation's own First Vice President, Kenneth Jernigan, who took full advantage of the massive turnout of congressmen and politicians in the audience to deliver a major address on a subject of perennial importance (and one to which he would return frequently at future conventions): that of the needless social handicap imposed upon the blind, not by their own physical condition but by the misconceptions of the public. In effect Jernigan turned his speech into a seminar on blindness, proclaiming the Federationist doctrine that blind persons are only normal people who can't see not abnormal people who can't function. But he demonstrated that the very words we use starting with the word blind and the very concepts we form out of these words, like the concept of the helpless blind, carry a freight of unacknowledged connotations which become stumbling blocks on the road to independence.
Here is the text of that speech: BLINDNESS CONCEPTS AND MISCONCEPTIONS
If the silver anniversary convention of 1965 was a high point on the Federation's road to revival and reconstruction, the next year's convention held in Louisville provided the decisive confirmation of the movement's full recovery. It came with the restoration to the presidency of the man who had held that office for 21 years before relinquishing it in 1963. That dramatic and unanticipated event followed the decision of Russell Kletzing, the incumbent National Federation of the Blind President, to step down. Following his formal announcement to that effect at the close of the presidential report, the convention hall buzzed with speculation and wonderment. Here is how the Braille Monitor reported the episode:
"Because of my unbounded faith in you, I am gratified to find that you have some faith in me."
With these words, Professor Jacobus tenBroek resumed the office of President of the National Federation of the Blind which he had previously held for 21 years after the organization's founding in 1940.
Thus occurred the high point of the 1966 convention and one of the highlights of 26 years of Federation history. This dramatic and wholly unexpected event followed the decision of Russell Kletzing, the Federation's President for the past four years, not to be a candidate for re-election a decision reached earlier and informally made known to many delegates as they arrived at the convention. It thus came as no surprise when Russ declared at the conclusion of his President's Report on the first afternoon of the convention that because of the growing requirements of his professional career and of his family he would not run again.
Ken Jernigan, as the man whom informal discussion among the delegates had generally singled out as the obvious successor to the office, then took the floor in an atmosphere of mounting suspense.
Mr. President, he began, I wish to make a brief statement and a motion. As the tension in the audience rose still further, Ken went on to say that at the urging of other Federation leaders he himself had given serious consideration to permitting his own name to be placed in nomination for the presidency but I have never felt right about it. For him it was proper to be Dr. tenBroek's chief lieutenant but not his chief.
During the last few days, Jernigan continued, and again this morning, in this hotel, I discussed with Dr. tenBroek the reasons why he, our founder and leader, ought to run for the presidency at this time. Those shattering and best forgotten days of the civil war are over; and his spirit, his integrity, his value are now needed more than ever to carry us to new heights of unity and accomplishment but not as President Emeritus rather, as President.
Observing that Dr. tenBroek this morning gave me a decision that permits this motion now, Ken went on to say again that I will do everything that I can to assist Dr. tenBroek in the years ahead and that if the time comes when he cannot or will not allow his name to be placed in nomination for the presidency, I will definitely be a candidate for that office.
He then moved that the convention unanimously, by acclamation, elect as its President Jacobus tenBroek.
There followed a demonstration the like of which Federationists had not experienced before unless it was on that other memorable occasion five years earlier when Professor tenBroek announced his resignation and retirement from the presidency. On both occasions the response of the delegates was not one merely of volume but of the expression of intense feelings. It was one of those rare times about which one can say truly that there was not a dry eye in the assemblage.
There is no doubt of the sense of this convention, exclaimed Russ Kletzing after some minutes of demonstration. President tenBroek, will you please come up here?
The first extemporaneous words of the newly acclaimed leader of the National Federation reflected the mood of the gathering; A man ought not to come to these conventions unless he has a strong heart.
We have lived together and worked together for a long time now, and most of you know that I'm a sentimental fellow. Because of my unbounded faith in you, I'm gratified to find that you have some faith in me.
I saw Don Capps a little while ago and he said, as he has regularly for the past five years; `You wouldn't be interested in being President, would you?' I replied. `Do you think I'm mad?' And he said, `Well, I suspect that you've had that kind of madness all the time I've known you.'
It is a kind of madness, Dr. tenBroek continued. A man, having once undertaken the burdens and responsibilities of this office, ought really in good sense not to be eager to shoulder them again.
But as is true of you, so also it is true of me that the Federation gets in one's blood. In this movement we have a great cause to carry forward and to work for. It is not just a matter of our personal feelings and our private lives, if we have some sense of responsibility to others, some sense of obligation to contribute whatever we can to improve the lot of our fellows.
President tenBroek went on to speak of the work of Jernigan and Kletzing and of fruitful collaboration with them over the years.
He gaveled his first presidential session to adjournment with the request that the delegates give Russ Kletzing a standing ovation for his performance as President during the past four years.
The session ended with the delegates on their feet, applauding and cheering.
Shortly after the 1966 convention, Dr. tenBroek learned that he had cancer; and it was not much longer before it would prove to be incurable. Nevertheless, as Kenneth Jernigan was to say of him later: He came to the 1967 convention in Los Angeles in high good humor and tranquillity. It was his last. There are many who say it was his greatest. When he rose to make the banquet address, it seemed a fitting climax and valedictory.
That valedictory speech of President tenBroek was sharply focused and pointedly addressed. Whereas, two years before, at the silver anniversary convention, he had reviewed the full sweep of the movement's history and accomplishments, now he concentrated upon a single troubled phase of its career: namely, the present state of its relations with the agencies in the field. Dr. tenBroek's address left no doubt of his conviction that the conflict of the organized blind with the agencies claiming dominion over them was the paramount issue of the period the outcome of which would decide the fate of blind Americans, individually and collectively, for many years to come.
The blind have a right to live in the world, he declared. That right is as deep as human nature; as pervasive as the need for social existence; as ubiquitous as the human race; as invincible as the human spirit. As their souls are their own, so their destiny must be their own. But Dr. tenBroek went on to assert that this bedrock right is challenged directly by many agencies not only by their actions but by their words. He therefore posed the fundamental issue in the form of a blunt question to the organized blind: Are We Equal to the Challenge?
Following is the text of President tenBroek's final banquet address as delivered before that 1967 convention at Los Angeles:
by Jacobus tenBroek
When last we met together in this Golden State eleven years ago, in that other California whose unofficial capital is San Francisco I delivered another banquet address which I dare say some of our grizzled members still remember. It was entitled "Within the Grace of God". It was frankly a fighting speech, and I'd like for a moment to recall to your minds and memories what the fight was all about.
That 1956 speech was principally concerned with the development of our movement the organized blind movement of the United States and with the relations of that movement with the private voluntary agencies, and combinations of agencies, in the field of work for the blind.
The state of our relations with the agencies, at that turbulent point of our history, can be briefly characterized. It was a state of war. We were in fact the targets of concerted opposition both nationally and within many of our affiliated states. The purpose of that attack was to break up the organized blind movement and return its members to the alienation, dependency, and disorganization of the status quo ante bellum that is, the good old days before the blind were organized.
Among other things, that agency opposition took the form of a verbal campaign directed against the basic premises and pillars of our movement. In editorials, speeches, books and broadsides, authoritative spokesmen for major agencies reminded the blind over and over of their legendary lacks and losses their irremediable dependency, their emotional imbalance, their obvious inequality, their desperate need for professional guidance and custodial care until their dying day or, alternatively, until that future golden age, as one agency director expressed it, when each and every blind person is a living advertisement of his ability and capacity to accept the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.
Now we are together again in California eleven years after. How goes the battle today? How do we stand now in relation to the agencies?
Before confronting those questions, let it be understood that our embattled relationship with the agencies is only one phase of a many-sided movement of the blind reaching toward integration, equality, and independence. It goes hand in hand with our struggle to improve life and livelihood through legislative action national, state, and local. It has its counterpart also in the arena of the courtroom, where dramatic struggles against discrimination and exclusion continue to be fought alternately won and lost and won again. On still another front we are engaged in positive relationships with other groups and associations, in particular those of the disabled, the disadvantaged and the deprived. Our concern must always be with the lame and the halt as well as with the blind! And then there is our own domestic front: the internal order of the Federation, with its constantly renewed challenges of diversity and democracy.
On all these fronts and more, we are called upon to devote our fullest energies and creative efforts toward the discovery of new solutions to changing issues and evolving needs. But in each of these areas, the agencies loom as both a fact of our lives and a factor in our planning. Nor is this a peculiar problem of blind Americans. Elsewhere in the world everywhere else in the world much the same tense and tortuous relationship exists. It exists, to be sure, at different stages and in various forms. In many countries of Europe, although rear-guard battles are still being fought, the course of the struggle has long since been determined. The pattern has been one, not of extinction of the agencies, but of their conquest and assimilation. The blind people of Europe have organized themselves and have taken over the agencies.
In England, on the other hand, almost alone of the principal European nations, the battle continues to rage unabated. There a large national organization of the blind stands on the battle line against an entrenched and powerful agency and its satellites. It is an unequal struggle, though far from one-sided; and the organized blind of Great Britain have no early hope of carrying out the continental pattern. Rather they seek to secure their goals through increasing governmentalization, thereby gradually superseding the voluntary societies by having the government take over their vested interests.
In Canada the story is perhaps the saddest and sorriest of all. In that northern clime an agency colossus bestrides the world of the blind from coast to coast, making free use of company-union tactics wherever any independent sentiment dares to express itself among the disorganized blind. Only a handful of undaunted spirits remain to hold the banner aloft in the deserted battlefield. Still a different pattern exists in some European countries, and especially those beyond the Iron Curtain, where large national organizations of the blind exist, apparently dominant in their field. There, for the most part, private agencies and voluntary societies are virtually nonexistent but the question remains whether the blind organizations are genuinely self-determined and self-directing or only the passive instruments of governmental policy and action. If the flow of communication is truly from the blind to the government, as well as the other way around, if there is genuine dialogue and not just authoritarian monologue, then in those lands the three-cornered struggle among the blind, the agencies, and the government has been resolved into a two-sided partnership. Let us hope that this is indeed the case.
In the United States, meanwhile, the wheel of fortune has not yet turned so far. The private agencies and voluntary societies are very much in evidence, as powerful as they are visible. Are they our collaborators or our calumniators? When the agency official passes by, who goes there: friend or foe?
The answer today, no less than eleven years ago, must be qualified and doubtful. There are agencies aplenty marching with us, fully attuned to our aspirations and activities, alert to our petitions, admiring of our programs. Doubtless too, their numbers have grown since 1956. But there are also large and powerful agencies abroad in the land, considerable in number and vast in influence, which remain hostile to our movement in thought, in speech, and in action.
And the worst of these, it may well be, is the newest: namely, COMSTAC. For COMSTAC seeks to impose upon the blind not less but more authority and custody than ever before. Under the guise of professionalism, it would perpetuate colonialism. Its philosophy is a throwback to the age of the silent client, before the revolution in welfare and civil rights which converted the client into an active and vocal partner in the programming and dispensing of services. In its lofty disregard of the organized blind as the voice of those to be served, COMSTAC betrays its bureaucratic bias that is, its distorted image of the blind client not as a person to be served but as a defective mechanism to be serviced.
Nowhere is the relationship between blind Americans and the social agencies more distressing or scandalizing than in the sheltered workshops where the relationship is one of pervasive exploitation on the one hand and an elemental struggle for survival on the other. Here the normal dignity of worker-management relations is not to be found; on the contrary, blind shop workers find themselves regarded not as workers but as wards, not as visually disabled simply, but as emotionally disturbed as well. They have been denied the status of organized labor, denied the right to strike, denied even the protection of minimum wage standards given as a matter of course to other workers.
The inmates of the St. Louis Lighthouse have been out on strike since last March, in spite of these deprivations just for the right to sit down and talk with the lighthouse-keepers. Other strikes have broken out across the country as blind shop workers have decided to stand up and speak out. Because of this rebellious spirit, this show of backbone, they are beginning to make progress. But their gains are coming, step by painful step, against the bitter-end opposition of the overseers in what must still be designated the sheltered sweatshops of America.
This condition of cold war between agencies and the organized blind is being waged with particular force and fury within the World Council for the Welfare of the Blind at whose gates the organized blind of nation after nation have come knocking and have either been turned away or relegated to second-class membership. The American blind, through the NFB, have battled for years to occupy the seat that is rightfully theirs upon the World Council's executive board and to gain equal representation with the agencies, but have been spurned, insulted, and ignored. The effort of the organized blind of Australia to gain a single place in that country's delegation to the World Council, long opposed by the controlling agencies within Australia, has now been blocked by a ruling of the World Council that the organized blind need not be represented at all.
The rationalization for this action and this attitude is contained in a 1964 resolution enacted by the World Council as a compromise to stave off a motion by the NFB. That resolution states that where in any country there exists a substantial group of blind persons organized into associations and where there are blind persons occupying leading positions in agencies for the blind, adequate provision should be made for their representation in the national delegation. The emphasis is upon blind persons, wherever they may be, and not upon the difference between elective associations of blind people, on the one hand, and professional agencies on the other. The lack of distinction is significant; for it treats alike the roles of the agency professional and the elected representative of a democratic group. If the confusion of roles is honest, it reflects a profound ignorance of democracy; if it is disingenuous, it reflects a shocking contempt for democracy.
What is the difference between the two roles? I have been informed by many earnest persons, all of them agency officials, to be sure, that the difference is negligible, but that what little difference there is favors the agency professional. For if he is blind himself, then does he not know the experience of blindness as well as any elected leader? And since he is a trained professional, does he not know social policies and programs better? And, finally, cannot the professional administrator consult his clients as much as any elective fellow and having spoken with them qualify to speak for them?
These seem plausible arguments on the surface but they convey an astonishing misconception of the democratic process and its meaning. Put aside the fact that there are elected blind leaders who possess at least a modicum of knowledge of the welfare field, and appointed agency officials who possess little. That is beside the real point which is that in a democracy the proper role of the expert and the professional is not to govern, not to rule, but to advise the governors; it is not to make policy decisions but only to implement them. An engineer may tell us how to build a highway; what he cannot do is to make the decision for us whether we should build the highway or whether we should build instead a college, a ball park, or a civic center. The sharpest lesson of democracy is that no professional elite or caste, administrative or military or scientific, must be permitted to usurp the power of the people and their elected representatives to make the decisions of life and liberty, or of life and death.
That the agencies all too often have failed to subordinate the role of the expert is one thing; that they all too often have misconstrued the proper role of the blind is a second thing. But more important than these mistakes is their persisting refusal to acknowledge and accept the elementary principles of humanity and democracy.
The blind have a right to live in the world. That right is as deep as human nature; as pervasive as the need for social existence; as ubiquitous as the human race; as invincible as the human spirit. As their souls are their own, so their destiny must be their own. Their salvation or failure lies within their own choice and responsibility. That choice cannot be precluded or prejudged; those lives cannot be predetermined or controlled. In a democracy the blind have a right to share in the fruits and obligations of the community. They have a right to participate in the decisions that affect their lives and fortunes. And beneath and beyond these democratic rights there is a further one: the right to organize for collective self-expression, and to be represented through their own associations. This, if it does not go without saying, surely goes without disputing.
But no: that basic and bedrock right is challenged directly by many agencies no less today than a decade ago. Not only by their actions, but by their words, do they stand condemned of throwing stumbling blocks in the path of the blind. I call to your attention an editorial published last September in the Matilda Ziegler Magazine, written by its managing editor, Howard M. Liechty, who is also the longtime managing editor of the New Outlook for the Blind, the official journal of the American Foundation.
Editor Liechty's editorial is a straightforward, unequivocal, and sweeping attack upon the notion of equality as having any present application to the blind and also upon the effort to move toward equality by organized action and legislative reform. Any attempt to force social equality, writes Editor Liechty, would mean legislating it, and any thinking man must know that you cannot legislate such a thing of the heart, and force men to accept their fellow men as social equals. And he goes on to quote with favor the words of a former Supreme Court Justice, Charles E. Whittaker, to the effect that no minority group has ever achieved acceptance in America until, by long years of exemplary conduct, a majority of its members have earned the respect and liking of the people generally.
Well, there you have it. To Editor Liechty today, as to his colleagues a decade ago, the hope of the blind for such peculiar values as full citizenship, individual rights, social acceptance, and human dignity, must continue to be a hope deferred. If anyone should ask how long, oh lords, how long must we be kept waiting, the answer comes back: until by exemplary conduct you have proved your worthiness all of you together, and each one of you individually.
This requirement so righteously imposed upon the blind, this test of exemplary conduct or good behavior, has a strangely familiar ring. It is the echo of the ancient Poor Law, that separate but unequal body of legal demands and strictures enforced upon the poor, the indigent, and the disabled as the precondition of eligibility for public aid. In scarcely diluted form, these requirements of exemplary conduct are now to be the conditions of eligibility for citizenship itself, not for others, but only for the blind.
To assert, as Editor Liechty does, that the rights of equal opportunity, of equal treatment, and equal access, of participation and expression, cannot be legislatively secured and judicially enforced is to fly in the face of our entire constitutional and political history. It is also to disregard the not inconsiderable history of the organized blind movement from the Kletzing case to the Model White Cane Law.
Of course we cannot be required to love one another; but we can be prevented from expressing our hates, our superstitions, and our prejudices in terms of public law and social policy. We cannot require the sighted to embrace the blind as brothers; but we can stop them from placing obstacles in their path.
We need not suppose that the end of discrimination against the blind will bring an automatic end to prejudice; but we can choose to be guided by the sense of justice, the voice of reason, the commitment to equality, and the passion for freedom which together make up the ancestral faith of American democracy.
Why is it always the defenders of injustice and inequality who cry out against the use of force to bring about change? For it is force they are themselves defending: the force of habit, the force of custom, the force of poor laws and of corrupt institutions. Against this combination of forces there must be brought another and opposing set of forces: the force of conviction, the force of aroused public opinion, the force of responsible government, the force of law.
And why is it, finally, that the means test of exemplary conduct always falls upon the victims of oppression, exclusion, and discrimination rather than upon the perpetrators? Whose conduct is it that most needs to be challenged and examined? Who is it that should be placed on trial in this case? Is it the blind or is it the men of short vision and little faith, the obsolete custodians of the lighthouse and the sheltered shop, who seek to defend their vested interest by subsidizing the ghost of the helpless blind man?
Through all the years and decades of our existence as an organized movement, for all our splendid success in gaining allies and winning public support, we have faced the persistent opposition of those whom we may call the hard-core custodians. The main thrust of their attack upon us has always been that blind people are not ready for equality not prepared for the burden of freedom not strong enough to stand upright and walk alone down the main streets of society.
To this denial of equality by the agencies, the organized blind reply: we are not only equal to you we are equal to your - challenge.
Jacobus tenBroek died on March 27, 1968, in Presbyterian Hospital, San Francisco. He was buried in the gently rolling hills not far from Berkeley, overlooking San Francisco Bay and with a lovely view of Mount Tamalpais, a prospect of which he was very fond.
On May 5 of that year a memorial service was held in Berkeley, on the campus of the University of California where Dr. tenBroek had taught for the greater part of his distinguished academic career. The chairman of that memorial assembly was Kenneth Jernigan, who also delivered a eulogy that has come to be generally regarded as the definitive assessment of the man and the movement. Here is the text of his eulogy:
by Kenneth Jernigan
If my remarks today were to have a title, it might well be: Jacobus tenBroek The Man and the Movement. For the relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man.
For tens of thousands of blind Americans over more than a quarter of a century he was leader, mentor, spokesman, and philosopher. He gave to the organized blind movement the force of his intellect and the shape of his dreams. He made it the symbol of a cause barely imagined before his coming: the cause of self-expression, self-direction, and self-sufficiency on the part of blind people. Step by step, year by year, action by action, he made that cause succeed.
There are those who will tell you it all started in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940 when the blind of seven states came together to organize. But they are wrong. It started much earlier in the age-old discriminations against the blind, in the social ostracism, the second-class citizenship, and the denial of opportunity it started in primitive times before the first recorded history, in the feelings of the community at large and the restiveness of the blind, the wish for improvement, the resistance to a system.
Its seeds were there when the first schools for the blind were founded in America in the 1800s, when the first feeble beginnings of rehabilitation occurred in the present century in the increasing numbers of blind college students, in the ever-expanding agencies established to serve the blind, in the custodialism, the hope, the frustration, the despair, and the courage.
But it also started on July 6, 1911, on the prairies of Alberta, Canada. On that date and in that place was born Jacobus tenBroek. His father was a strong-willed renegade Dutchman who first asserted his own independence by running away from home at seven to become a cabin boy. Over the next thirty years he literally sailed the seven seas and roamed most of the world, but at the ripe age of forty he felt a hankering to settle down. Through devious negotiations with the Dutch community in California he arranged a marriage with a girl whom he met for the first time on their wedding day and promptly took up homesteading in the rugged Canadian prairies of Alberta. Like his fellow sodbusters of that era, Nicolaas tenBroek earned the right to own his section (640 acres) of hard ground through arduous years of clearing and breaking it. But unlike the other homesteaders, who customarily constructed their huts out of the native sod, the elder tenBroek chose to build his home of logs chopped from the tall Alberta timber.
In that primitive, dirt-floor cabin, both Jacobus and his older brother Nicolaas were born. Some years later when the worst edge of grinding poverty had been turned, their father set about erecting the first frame house to be seen in that part of the province. But the rustic log cabin still stands today, hardly the worse for more than a half-century of wear as a monument to Dutch craftsmanship and North American timber.
One day, seven-year-old Jacobus and a boyhood friend were playing at bows and arrows, taking turns aiming at a roughly constructed bull's eye cut out of a large piece of canvas. On a sudden whim, young tenBroek darted behind the cloth to peer through the hole at his companion. At that moment the other boy released an arrow from his bow and for once that day the missile was perfectly on target.
The sight of one eye was irrevocably lost to Jacobus tenBroek on that afternoon. Even then, however, had he received prompt and expert medical attention he would have retained the full sight of the other eye. But in rural Alberta in those days, such care was not to be had. Before many years had gone by Jacobus was totally blind.
Perhaps it required the challenge of blindness to get his Dutch up. At any rate, the stubborn streak of independence he had inherited from both parents, coupled with a spartan upbringing on a prairie homestead prevented any lapse into helplessness or self-pity. The family decided to move back to California so that Jacobus could enroll in the California School for the Blind. Following this schooling he enrolled in the University of California, where he graduated with highest honors and went on to win the Order of the Coif at the University Law School.
In 1937 he won what he was to consider his greatest triumph: the hand of his wife Hazel. The three children and the happy life which followed gave evidence to the wisdom of that judgment.
The question has been put before: What if that fateful arrow had never flown? But the arrow did fly and the results are a matter of history. Jacobus tenBroek went on to earn five college degrees, including a doctorate from Harvard and another from the University of California. He became a brilliant teacher and scholar, a renowned author, and a prominent authority in the field of social welfare. He also became the founder and leader of the National Federation of the Blind. From the very beginning the organization was active, tumultuous, dynamic, inspiring. It struggled, prospered, had civil war, and rebuilt. And through it all, one man was a central figure Jacobus tenBroek. His enemies called him a tyrant and hated him. His friends called him Chick and loved him.
I first met Chick in 1952, when the Federation was twelve years old. From that time until his death he was my closest friend my teacher, companion, counselor, colleague, and brother. I worked with him in good times and in bad, and had occasion to know him in every conceivable kind of situation. He could be harsh and quick of temper, but he could also be gentle, considerate, and generous. He was the greatest man I have ever known.
When he began the Federation in 1940 the plight of the blind was sorry, indeed. To start any organization at all was a monumental effort. It involved finding and stimulating blind people, licking stamps and cranking the mimeograph machine, finding funds and resources, and doing battle with the agencies bent on perpetuating custodialism.
When I came on the scene in 1952, the Federation was a growing concern. The convention was held in New York that year, and we had our first nationwide coverage a fifteen minute tenBroek speech. The early and mid-fifties were a time of growth and harmony for the organized blind movement. New states were joining the Federation; money was coming into the treasury; and we established our magazine, the Braille Monitor. By 1956 the organization had reached full maturity. Almost a thousand delegates gathered at San Francisco to hear a classic statement of the hopes, purposes and problems of the blind. It was Dr. tenBroek's banquet address, Within the Grace of God. His addresses the following year at New Orleans The Cross of Blindness and The Right of the Blind to Organize were equally cogent.
Shortly after the New Orleans convention smoldering sparks of conflict within the Federation flamed into open civil war. The three succeeding conventions Boston in 1958, Santa Fe in 1959, and Miami in 1960 left the organization in virtual ruin. What had been a great crusade had now become a bickering political movement. Unity was gone; and although the overwhelming majority of the members still believed in the leadership of Dr. tenBroek, they seemed unable to mobilize themselves to meet this new type of challenge. The opposition established a magazine, calling it the Free Press. There were character assassinations, charges and counter-charges. When Dr. tenBroek rose to speak to the delegates at the Kansas City convention in 1961, his voice was weary, and his words carried sorrow and defeat. He cited two lists of occurrences during the preceding year things the Federation had done, and things that had been done to the Federation by its own disruptive faction from within. He said that he had undergone extreme and bitter personal attack, aimed at destroying his career and his reputation. They have called me a Hitler, he said, a Stalin, and a Mussolini. They have compared me to Caesar. He then told the audience that he felt that he had no choice but to resign. As he talked, the dissenters shifted uneasily in their seats, the majority wept. When he finished, I walked off of that stage with him and it seemed to me as if the organized blind movement might be finished.
But the Federation did not die. From those dark days of 1961 it rallied. The resignation of Dr. tenBroek seemed to galvanize the members into action. The dissenters were expelled. Renewal and rebirth began. The 1962 convention at Detroit was a welcome contrast to the four which had preceded it. Although Dr. tenBroek was not the President, he was still the spiritual leader of the movement. This fact was made clear by his reception throughout the meeting and, particularly, at the banquet, where he delivered the principal address.
In 1965 the Federation met in the nation's Capitol. The convention was tumultuous, enthusiastic. The Vice President of the United States spoke, as did the Speaker of the House and numerous others. The climax came at the banquet when more than one hundred congressmen and senators came to the packed hotel ballroom to hear one of the truly great tenBroek speeches.
In the history of every movement there are crucial events and landmark years. 1966 was such for the Federation. When the delegates met at Louisville, there was an air of expectancy. On the afternoon of the first day, President Russell Kletzing rose to make his report. He summarized the past four years of organizational development and concluded by saying that he would not be a candidate for re-election. Then it was moved that Dr. tenBroek be elected to the presidency by acclamation. There was pandemonium. As on that other day in Kansas City, the majority wept. It was a day of complete rededication and renewal.
This was in July. In August Dr. tenBroek learned that he had cancer. The surgery which followed brought hope, waiting, and ultimate disappointment. As the year progressed and the pain grew, the end seemed inevitable. He came to the 1967 convention at Los Angeles in high good humor and tranquillity. It was his last. There are many who say it was his greatest. When he rose to make the banquet address, it seemed a fitting climax and valedictory.
In the fall of 1967 surgery was again necessary. The cancer was widespread and incurable. On March 27, 1968, Jacobus tenBroek died. During his years he lived more and accomplished more than most men ever can or do. He was the source of love for his family, joy for his friends, consternation for his opponents, and hope for the disadvantaged. He moved the blind from immobility to action, from silence to expression, from degradation to dignity and through that movement he moved a nation.
No greater summation of his philosophy can be given than his own concluding words in his speech Within the Grace of God.
In the sixteenth century John Bradford made a famous remark which has ever since been held up to us as a model of Christian humility and great charity. Seeing a beggar in his rags, creeping along a wall through a flash of lightening in a stormy night, Bradford said: But for the Grace of God, there go I. Compassion was shown; pity was shown; charity was shown; humility was shown; there was even an acknowledgment that the relative positions of the two could and might have been switched. Yet despite the compassion, despite the pity, despite the charity, despite the humility, how insufferably arrogant! There was still an unbridgeable gulf between Bradford and the beggar. They were not one but two. Whatever might have been, Bradford thought himself Bradford and the beggar a beggar one high, the other low; one wise, the other misguided; one strong, the other weak; one virtuous, the other depraved.
We do not and we cannot take the Bradford approach. It is not just that beggary is the badge of our past and is still all too often the present symbol of social attitudes towards us; although that is at least part of it. But in the broader sense, we are that beggar, and he is each of us. We are made in the same image and of the same ingredients. We have the same weaknesses and strengths, the same feelings, emotions, and drives; and we are products of the same social, economic, and other environmental forces. How much more consonant with the facts of individual and social life, how much more a part of true humanity, to say instead: There, within the Grace of God, do go I.
So Chick spoke in a graphic pronouncement. On another occasion he said: Movements are built of principles and of men. Movements without principles should not exist. Movements with principles but without men of energy, intelligence, and training to give them life cannot exist.
He was such a man. He gave to the movement all that he had his time, his energy, and his love. The only thing he took in return was such satisfaction as he derived from his labors. In the hearts of blind men and women throughout America and the world, his memory lives, and will live. In the life and work of Jacobus tenBroek can be read the story of a man and a movement.
A significant episode in that story had begun much earlier. It was in 1964 on October 15 that America, for the first time, officially observed White Cane Safety Day. In issuing his formal proclamation, President Lyndon B. Johnson emphasized the significance of the action and of the visible symbol: A white cane in our society has become one of the symbols of a blind person's ability to come and go on his own. Its use has promoted courtesy and opportunity for mobility for the blind on our streets and highways. To make the American people more fully aware of the meaning of the white cane, and of the need for motorists to exercise special care for the blind persons who carry it, Congress, by a joint resolution approved October 6, 1964, authorized the President to proclaim October 15 of each year as White Cane Safety Day.
That Presidential proclamation marked a climactic moment in the long campaign by the organized blind to gain national as well as state recognition of the rights of blind pedestrians. Starting in the thirties, early leaders of the blind like William Taylor of Pennsylvania had traveled the country over persuading legislature after legislature to adopt a White Cane Traffic Law for the protection of blind persons on the streets and highways. These pioneer lobbyists were the Johnny Appleseeds of the organized blind movement, scattering the seeds of white cane consciousness among the states.
By 1960, Jacobus tenBroek was able to announce in one of the most important and influential speeches of his career that these sustained efforts on behalf of white cane laws had borne fruit everywhere in the land. It was exactly thirty years ago, he wrote, that the first legislative step was taken to free the blind from the rocking-chair in which the law still kept them shackled. This year we are celebrating, not only the thirtieth anniversary of that first step onto the highway, but the virtual completion of the campaign which it inaugurated. Today, White Cane Laws are on the books of every state in the union and for the first time in modern history, everywhere in the land, the blind person truly 'walks by a faith justified by law.'
The text of that 1960 address entitled "He Walks By a Faith Justified by Law" was to be reprinted several times by the Braille Monitor over the years and has been widely quoted, cited, and praised elsewhere. In eloquent but informal language, free from jargon, tenBroek summed up the full significance of the white cane, as both a symbol of equality and a sign of mobility. The text of his speech follows:
by Jacobus tenBroek
Nearly a century ago, in a case that has become a landmark, the chief justice of a New York Court wrote as follows:
The streets and sidewalks are for the benefit of all conditions of people, and all have the right, in using them, to assume that they are in good condition, and to regulate their conduct upon that assumption. A person may walk or drive in the darkness of the night, relying upon the belief that the corporation has performed its duty and that the street or the walk is in a safe condition. He walks by a faith justified by law, and if his faith is unfounded, and he suffers an injury, the party in fault must respond in damages. So, one whose sight is dimmed by age, or a nearsighted person whose range of vision was always imperfect, or one whose sight has been injured by disease, is each entitled to the same rights, and may act upon the same assumption. Each is, however, bound to know that prudence and care in turn are required of him, and that, if he fails in this respect, any injury he may suffer is without redress. The blind have means of protection and sources of knowledge of which all are not aware .
This resounding opinion is notable today for two oddly different reasons. On the one side it stands as a monumental expression of the modern view that the infirm and the disabled have a right, like any others, freely to travel the public streets and sidewalks. On the other side it is a rather startling revelation of that pervasive prejudice of earlier times that the sightless are different from others not just in degree but in kind different even from those whose vision is imperfect or injured. It must have been a comforting thought in those not-so-innocent days of charity a thought not unlike that of the nobility of poverty that the blind were gifted by a kindly Providence with wondrous powers which somehow magically balanced the ledger and made it unnecessary to be greatly concerned about their welfare.
But while this curious residue of unconscious prejudice blurs its message, the real significance of this judicial opinion lies in its straightforward rejection of an age-old discrimination against the visually handicapped. This was the assumption that the blind man's place is in the home or in the asylum, that he takes to the streets and public places at his own risk and peril, and that in the common legal parlance of the day before yesterday he is automatically guilty of contributory negligence in any accident involving travel.
In effect, it was held by the courts that the blind were not only sightless but legally without legs to stand on. If they could not see, then they should not attempt to walk. In the eyes of the law, they were immobilized. Their right to be in public places, often conceded as a matter of doctrine, was stillborn.
That was not only the case a century ago; it was also very generally the case, despite the judicial opinion quoted above, as recently as a generation ago. It was exactly 30 years ago, in 1930, that the first legislative step was taken to free the blind from the rocking-chair in which the law still kept them shackled. For while the New York jurist of 1867 had granted the blind the right to walk abroad with the expectation that the streets and sidewalks would be kept in shape, nothing had been done since the advent of the automobile to enable the blind to leave those sidewalks and to cross those streets. It was expressly to provide a new right to be abroad in the new conditions of modern motorized traffic, that the white cane was inaugurated as a travel aid for the blind. This year we are celebrating, not only the 30th anniversary of that first step onto the highway, but the virtual completion of the campaign which it inaugurated. Today White Cane Laws are on the books of every state in the Union and for the first time in modern history, everywhere in the land, the blind person truly walks by a faith justified by law. The great and unique achievement of the White Cane Laws has been virtually to wipe out the automatic assumption of contributory negligence on the part of the blind pedestrian, and so to afford him a legal status in traffic, a protection not hitherto conferred.
The white cane is therefore a symbol of equality and still more clearly a sign of mobility . Nothing characterizes our streamlined modern civilization so much as its atmosphere of rapid transit and jet propulsion. More than ever, in urbanized and automobilized America, the race is to the swift until it almost seems that even the pursuit of happiness takes place on wheels. In the routines of daily living, as at a deeper social level, the keynote of our way of life is mobility : the capacity to get around, to move at a normal pace in step with the passing parade. In this race, until very recently, the blind were clearly lagging and falling ever farther behind. In terms of their physical mobility, as in the broader terms of economic and social mobility, this lag was long regarded as the permanent and inescapable handicap of blindness. But today the blind of America are catching up. Just as they are gaining social and economic mobility through the expansion of vocational horizons, so they are achieving a new freedom of physical mobility through the expansion of legal opportunities centering around the White Cane Laws.
For blind people everywhere, the white cane is not a badge of difference but a token of their equality and integration. For those who know its history and associations, the white cane is also something more: it is the tangible expression not only of mobility, but of a movement . It is indeed peculiarly appropriate that the organized movement of the National Federation of the Blind should have as its hallmark this symbol of the white cane. Nor does this take away in any degree from the vital and continuing contributions to the White Cane Laws of the Lions Clubs of America. The Lions have been, and are, staunch allies in the movement of the blind and companions on the march which began a generation ago. During the decade following the introduction of the white cane, statewide organizations of the blind began to emerge in numbers across the country, in the first wave of a movement which was climaxed by the founding of the National Federation in 1940. Through the adoption of the White Cane Laws, the blind have gained the legal right to travel, the right of physical mobility. And at the same time, through the organization of their own national and state associations, the blind have gained the social right of movement and the rights of a social movement.
This is a striking parallel, and an instructive one. For the right to move about independently within the states, which the White Cane Laws have steadily won for the blind in the courts, is intimately bound up with the right of free movement across state boundaries, which the organized blind are steadily achieving through the reduction or outright abolishment of the residence requirements governing state programs of aid to the blind. In short, it is no empty phrase of rhetoric to say that the blind are on the move. Thanks to the White Cane Laws, they now move freely and confidently not just on the sidewalks but across the streets. Thanks to the legislative reforms instigated by the Federation, they are moving also more freely than ever from state to state, as need and opportunity dictate; they are moving upward, into new careers and callings; and they are moving forward , into the main channels and thoroughfares of community life. The blind of America walk by a faith ever more justified by law.
I have said that the White Cane Laws enhance the freedom and confidence of the blind person by affording him a status of legal equality. But it is not, of course, the laws alone but the white cane itself which contributes to his confidence and self-sufficiency. This distinctive cane is several things at once: It is a tangible assist to the blind person in making his way; it is a visual signal to the sighted of the user's condition; and it is a symbol for all of a legal status and protection. Let us immediately concede, however, that the white cane is no magic wand or dowsing-rod, no substitute for sight, and no guarantee of immunity against disaster. The cane cannot read signs or distinguish lights; it cannot traverse all areas immediately ahead and above, and even where it does, it cannot make judgments for its user. In short, it is only a cane not a brain. And finally it is, of course, not always and universally recognized by the sighted as the legal device of a blind person, although such recognition is already wide and rapidly increasing.
Despite all these necessary and obvious reservations, it is or should be indisputable that the white cane is an extremely effective aid to blind people in their daily movements. In fact, however, this conclusion is still disputed and not by the sighted only but even by a few who are blind. No less a personage than General Melvin Maas, president of the Blinded Veterans Association and head of the National Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped, has now seen fit to speak out sweepingly against the white cane and all its works including the White Cane Laws and the whole principle of White Cane Week. The white cane, says the general, is utterly valueless as a signaling device unless it is elevated at least to the horizontal level, which would present a real hazard to oncoming pedestrians. Apparently General Maas is suggesting that the blind person must point his cane horizontally ahead of him like a swordsman. What the laws provide, in terms of elevation, is rather that the cane be vertically raised and extended as far as arm's length. Again, according to the general, the cane would need to be of such size and shape as to be readily discernible by drivers of vehicles. But this is surely no objection; obviously the cane ought to be as visible as possible, consistent with its portability and convenience. General Maas indeed goes so far in his opposition as to argue that many cane users do not now use white canes, but use collapsible metallic ones. What he does not say is that there is nothing about collapsible metal canes which prevents them from being colored white (like that which I am carrying today). Finally, the general clinches his case with the contention that the volume and speed of traffic now makes dependence on the cane most hazardous. There is no doubt, certainly, that traffic hazards are greater today, for everyone, than ever before. But what is the inference? Should the blind then retreat once more to the rocking chair and never venture forth? This is, to be sure, a viewpoint not yet dead among us; as witness the opinion of a Milwaukee district judge, just two years ago, that blind people should stay at home because they only endanger traffic by moving around by themselves. Would General Maas subscribe to that retrogressive doctrine? If, on the other hand, the blind are to be permitted to retain their hard-won right of independent travel, should they now be stripped of the paramount aid and legal protection they have gained?
There are two different questions to be settled here: one of fact and the other of right. The factual question is simply whether the white cane and White Cane Laws are, or are not, a genuine help to blind pedestrians and sighted motorists. On this score the evidence is clear and overwhelming. When, for example, the New York legislature was considering enactment of a state White Cane Law a few years ago, a questionnaire on the merits of the proposal was dispatched to several hundred chiefs of police, attorneys general and safety officers in other states. A very high proportion took the trouble to answer, and the verdict was that White Cane Laws, when properly publicized and administered, are a definite and powerful help to blind and sighted alike. No one, of course, proposed them as a substitute for prudence and common sense on either side; but all agreed that in the presence of ordinary caution and in the service of judgment the white cane is unmistakably a good thing.
Some of the efforts to improve the usefulness and efficiency of the white cane, and to define its proper handling, are fascinating (if not always edifying) to recount.
A Milwaukee city attorney, for example, has proposed that all white canes should fly a flag in traffic whether at full or half-mast is not revealed. A still more colorful suggestion has been made by a policeman who investigated the most recent traffic death involving a white cane. The carrier, he said, should be enabled upon entering traffic to press a button releasing a set of dangles, whose glitter would presumably attract the eye of the most inattentive motorist; when not in use, the dangles would politely recede into the shell of the cane. Still others have suggested that the white cane ought properly to be at least one and one-half inches thick to improve its visibility a suggestion which will, no doubt, be happily received by all sightless weight-lifters.
Meanwhile legal minds have labored long and hard over the meaning of the term raised or extended position set forth as a requirement by the White Cane Laws of most states. Does raised mean, as one city attorney has proclaimed, pointing upwards? Does extended mean, as General Maas appears to suggest, pointing forward? And does the requirement involve both raising and extending the cane, simultaneously or alternately, in the manner of a drum-major? (If the cane in these circumstances also flies a flag and trails dangles, nearly all the elements of a one-man parade would appear to be present.)
There has been no less argument concerning the sanctions most profitably to be included in the White Cane Laws. Some states impose only civil sanctions, thus making it easier to secure the conviction of sighted offenders. Others make allowance for penal sanctions, including jail sentences; but this approach, while apparently more effective, automatically grants to defendants all the protections of criminal law, and by its very severity renders juries reluctant to bring in convictions against negligent drivers. Then, too, there is the question of the right of way to be accorded the blind user of a white cane. In at least one state his rights would appear to be virtually unlimited even by such normal barriers as traffic signals. Illinois provides that "Any blind person who is carrying in a raised or extended position a cane or walking stick which is white in color or white tipped with red, or who is being guided by a dog, shall have the right of way in crossing any street or highway, whether or not traffic on such street or highway is controlled by traffic signals. The driver of every vehicle approaching the place where a blind person, so carrying such a cane or walking stick or being so guided, is crossing a street or highway shall bring his vehicle to a full stop and proceeding shall take such precautions as may be necessary to avoid injury to the blind person."
At least six other states impose the full-stop requirement, universally insisting that non-blind pedestrians, as well as drivers, must heed the approach of a blind white caner and come to a stop when approaching or coming into contact with him. Such provisions as these would seem to make the blind pedestrian virtually all-conquering.
It should be clear that the legal symbol and physical helpmate of the white cane has not magically solved all the ambulatory problems of the blind. It cannot at a gesture convert a crazed motorist into a sane one; it cannot make the sea of traffic part at its command; above all, it cannot absolve the blind pedestrian from his civilized responsibility to move with prudence and ordinary caution: to speak politely, while carrying a big stick. Let us claim no more for the white cane and the White Cane Laws than is their due. The paramount right which they confer upon the blind pedestrian is not so much a right-of-way (for that is limited and contingent), nor even a guarantee of safe conduct, but simply a right of passage the right to travel independently in public places, to move in the thick of things, with the confidence of legal status and the reasonable assurance of recognition. Before the era of the white cane, the blind man everywhere ventured forth at his peril and proceeded at his own risk; today he walks by a faith justified by law.
Nearly a hundred years ago an American writer, Obadiah Milton Conover, composed a short poem which no blind person could then have read with conviction. This year, as we celebrate the anniversary of the white cane and the newly found independence which it signifies, each of us may affirm the poet's boast:
Alone I walk the peopled city,
Where each seems happy with his own;
O friends, I ask not for your pity.
I walk alone.
With those words of confidence, Jacobus tenBroek looked forward in the first year of the sixties to a future of continuous progress in the social sphere symbolized by the white cane. But by the mid-decade it was apparent to him and his fellow leaders that, in terms of real mobility and the rights of travel, the blind were no longer catching up but falling behind. In the words of a 1966 convention resolution, the existing white cane laws were inadequate to meet the greatly changed traffic and traveling conditions of the freeway era. Moreover, it was maintained that some court decisions have had the effect of stripping blind pedestrians of their right of free and unhampered movement, and almost made of them trespassers upon the public ways; and state motor vehicle enforcement officials have failed to act positively in upholding and enforcing the spirit of White Cane Laws.
The result was the development by the National Federation of the Blind of a landmark legal innovation the Model White Cane Law which was to be one of the most important legislative achievements of the era. The conceptual and research basis of the model law was provided in a major article by Dr. tenBroek, "The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts," published in the California Law Review in April, 1966. This meticulously researched study represented a survey and analysis of legal doctrines and provisions governing the right of the blind and the otherwise physically disabled to full and equal access to places of public accommodation, resort, and amusement; to use the streets and highways with reasonable safety in automobile traffic and amid the normal sidewalk hazards; to ride upon buses, trains, airplanes, taxis, and other public conveyances and common carriers; to have entry to and use of public buildings and other public places free from architectural barriers that especially interfere with the physically disabled; to have the benefit in their travels of guide dogs and white canes.
The tenBroek article constituted a reinterpretation of conventional legal concepts in the light of modern conditions, especially the policy of integrating the blind and physically disabled into the normal life of the community. More to the point, it defined the right to live in the world and still more specifically the right of free movement and access as a civil right deserving of the same equal protection as the right to vote, the right to privacy, and the right to education. The keynote of tenBroek's study was struck in its opening paragraph:
Movement, we are told, is a law of animal life. As to man, in any event, nothing could be more essential to personality, social existence, economic opportunity in short, to individual well-being and integration into the life of the community than the physical capacity, the public approval, and the legal right to be abroad in the land.
Of special interest to many readers of the tenBroek article was an Author's Note which appeared as a footnote as the bottom of the first page:
Author's Note: If the blind appear in these pages more than other disabled, it may be because the author is blind and has a special interest in his kind. He thinks not, however. The fact is that the blind individually and collectively are a very active group of the disabled, if not the most active. If the National Federation of the Blind appears in these pages more than other organizations and agencies composed of the blind or dealing with their problems, it may be because the author founded that organization in 1940, served as its President for 21 years, and is still an active leader in it. He thinks not, however. The National Federation of the Blind is an aggressive, militant, activist organization of the blind themselves which in a quarter of a century has achieved a great deal, legislatively and otherwise, and has always been in the thick of the fight. If the Braille Monitor is cited more often than other magazines, it may be because the author is editor of that journal. He thinks not, however. That journal specializes in information and coverage which have a special relevance to the issues here discussed.
This article is amply flexed with footnotes, citing a wide range of formal materials. The views expressed, the author believes, are verified by his personal experience as a disabled individual far more than by all the footnote references put together.
The Model White Cane Law which was derived from that law review article first appeared as a proposal, drafted by Dr. tenBroek and Russell Kletzing, presented to the Federation's 1966 convention in Louisville. Following the presentation, a convention resolution was unanimously adopted endorsing the model legislation and urging members to lobby for its enactment in their respective states.
Following is the text of the Model White Cane Law as it was originally presented.
1. It is the policy of this state to encourage and enable the blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled to participate fully in the social and economic life of the state and to engage in remunerative employment.
2. (a) The blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled have the same right as the able-bodied to the full and free use of the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, public buildings, public facilities, and other public places;
(b) The blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled are entitled to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all common carriers, airplanes, motor vehicles, railroad trains, motor buses, street cars, boats, or any other public conveyances or modes of transportation, hotels, lodging places, places of public accommodation, amusement or resort, and other places to which the general public is invited, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all persons;
(c) Every totally or partially blind person shall have the right to be accompanied by a guide dog, especially trained for the purpose, in any of the places listed in section 2(b) without being required to pay an extra charge for the guide dog; provided that he shall be liable for any damage done to the premises or facilities by such dog.
3. The driver of a vehicle approaching a totally or partially blind pedestrian who is carrying a cane predominantly white or metallic in color (with or without a red tip) or using a guide dog shall take all necessary precautions to avoid injury to such blind pedestrian, and any driver who fails to take such precautions shall be liable in damages for any injury caused such pedestrian; provided that a totally or partially blind pedestrian not carrying such a cane or using a guide dog in any of the places, accommodations, or conveyances listed in section 2, shall have all of the rights and privileges conferred by law upon other persons, and the failure of a totally or partially blind pedestrian to carry such a cane or to use a guide dog in any such places, accommodations, or conveyances shall not be held to constitute nor be evidence of contributory negligence.
4. Any person or persons, firm or corporation, or the agent of any person or persons, firm or corporation who denies or interferes with admittance to or enjoyment of the public facilities enumerated in section 2 or otherwise interferes with the rights of a totally or partially blind, or otherwise disabled person under section 2 shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
5. Each year, the Governor shall take suitable public notice of October 15 as White Cane Safety Day. He shall issue a proclamation in which:
(a) he comments upon the significance of the white cane;
(b) he calls upon the citizens of the state to observe the provisions of the White Cane Law and to take precautions necessary to the safety of the disabled;
(c) he reminds the citizens of the state of the policies with respect to the disabled herein declared and urges the citizens to cooperate in giving effect to them;
(d) he emphasizes the need of the citizens to be aware of the presence of disabled persons in the community and to keep safe and functional for the disabled the streets, highways, sidewalks, walkways, public buildings, public facilities, other public places, places of public accommodation, amusement, and resort and other places to which the public is invited, and to offer assistance to disabled persons upon appropriate occasions.
6. It is the policy of this state that the blind, the visually handicapped, and the otherwise physically disabled shall be employed in the State Service, the service of the political subdivisions of the state, in the public schools, and in all other employment supported in whole or in part by public funds on the same terms and conditions as the able-bodied, unless it is shown that the particular disability prevents the performance of the work involved.
The history of the Model White Cane Law over the years since its formulation in 1966, both in the legislatures and in the court, was active and for the most part progressive. By 1972 some 24 states and the District of Columbia had enacted versions of the model law; but in several cases there was a conspicuous omission that of the section on contributory negligence. The significance of this omission the motives behind it and its damaging effects upon the rights of blind pedestrians were emphasized by Kenneth Jernigan in a letter of 1974 responding to a Federationist's appeal for guidance in the matter. This is what President Jernigan wrote in his letter:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
Des Moines, Iowa, October 3, 1974
I have your letter of September 25, 1974, and I thank you for writing me. The section of the Model White Cane Law which you underlined reads, and the failure of a totally or partially blind pedestrian to carry such a cane or to use a guide dog in any such places, accommodations, or conveyances shall not be held to constitute nor be evidence of contributory negligence. I can understand how insurance companies might oppose this section, but for the life of me I cannot understand why any blind person would. In the past, insurance companies have sometimes argued that blind persons have no business traveling on the streets at all and that (even if the blind person is obeying every law and is in the crosswalk) he should not receive any insurance payment if he is hit by a car the driver of which may be drunk, speeding, or just plain careless. The argument is that the blind person is negligent by being on the street at all.
A modification of this argument says that a blind person is negligent unless he has a clear identification (cane or dog) that he is blind. For my part, I carry a cane when I am on the streets or roads. However, I do not wish to be penalized by law or deprived of my rights if I do not have a cane in my hand or am not accompanied by a dog.
According to our Model White Cane Law, a blind person would still be guilty of contributory negligence if he is careless or if he is not abiding by the law that is, if he is jaywalking or going against the light or doing any other such thing. Our Model Law simply provides that he cannot be deprived of his legal rights simply because he does not have a cane in his hand or a dog by his side.
Consider the following possibilities: (a) I am walking with a sighted friend and holding his arm. We cross the street at a crosswalk, properly obeying the traffic signal. A drunk driver runs us down, and we are both injured. If our contributory negligence section is not enacted, my friend can collect, but I may be deprived of any insurance payment on the grounds that I am guilty of contributory negligence because I do not have a cane or dog. (b) I am walking on the streets of Chicago and (as once happened to me) my cane falls through a grating, and I am without it. Suppose I had been hit by a car as I crossed the next street. If I am crossing properly, should I lose all of my legal rights because I do not have a cane?
I carry a cane, and I think I should alert drivers to the fact that I am blind. I believe I should abide by the law. However, I do not wish to be required (under penalty of losing all of my rights) to carry a cane or use a dog.
Perhaps I should say one more thing. Some blind people do not carry a cane because they are ashamed of blindness and think it is not altogether respectable. They have not verbalized it in this manner, but that is how they feel. They say with real pride, I behave so normally that my friends tell me they forget I'm blind. They also make much of the fact that they associate with sighted people and think and act like sighted people, whatever that may mean. I think this sort of attitude is pathetic.
In other words, I think it makes good sense (all other things being equal) to use cane or dog when one is walking alone or, for that matter, when one is walking with a sighted person. I also think it is quite respectable and acceptable to take the arm of a sighted person when walking down the street.
We should not be so emotionally uptight that we make an international incident out of every triviality in our life. It is all a matter of balance. I think it makes good sense to carry the cane or use the dog, but I don't want somebody discriminating against me if I don't do it.
National Federation of the Blind
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