This book tells a story as true as it is dramatic that has never been told before. It is a story of the epochal struggle and ultimate triumph of a singular American social movement, that of the organized blind, which evolved over the space of half a century from a small vanguard of visionary men and women, no more than a handful in a scattering of states, into a nationwide community of fifty thousand members the National Federation of the Blind recognized throughout the world as a major force and revolutionary figure in the field of blindness.
Unlike previous histories of blindness and the blind, which have dealt almost entirely with the work of benefactors and agencies for the blind, this magisterial study by a distinguished cultural historian Floyd Matson breaks new ground in focusing upon the actions and aspirations of the organized blind themselves. We follow the progress of the movement from its historical origins in the remote past to the pioneering adventure of its founding in 1940 by a little band of willful men, and thence through the early years of lonely struggle for the right of the blind to organize (indelibly associated with the name of John F. Kennedy). Then we see the turmoil of civil war, followed by renewed harmony, and explosive growth in both size and stature as symbolized by the multi-faceted National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland, established in 1978 and greatly expanded through the decade of the eighties.
And through it all, through the first fifty years of Federationism, we meet a remarkable group of leaders the blind who lead the blind beginning with the movement's founding father, Jacobus tenBroek, an acclaimed constitutional scholar of commanding presence and broad philosophical grasp; followed by his successor as NFB President and prime mover, the brilliant and charismatic Kenneth Jernigan, whose personal magnetism drew together the separate state affiliates with their isolated local chapters, and welded them into a powerful unitary force for recognition and reform; and finally, with the coming of the third generation, the energetic and resourceful new President, trained in the law and schooled in the movement: Marc Maurer.
Side by side with these successive commanders in chief, marching shoulder to shoulder in the ranks through the years and down the generations, were a goodly company of other blind men and women (leaders at national, state, and chapter levels) who also contributed mightily to the evolution of the National Federation of the Blind, making it into a genuine People's Movement. We meet someof them, too, in these pages along with others not so illustrious but scarcely less crucial to the narrative of their own collective history: the epic story of the organized blind movement in the United States.
Floyd Matson is the co-author, with Jacobus tenBroek, of Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind (1959). He also collaborated with tenBroek on the award-winning Prejudice, War, and the Constitution (1959). Professor Matson, who teaches American Studies at the University of Hawaii, has written widely in the fields of history, politics, and social thought.