This volume tells of the convergence of a master teacher and the organized blind movement-of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and the National Federation of the Blind. For almost half a century, the two were linked inseparably, virtually indistinguishable one from the other. Thus, when the blind of America heard the name Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, they thought of the National Federation of the Blind. When they heard of the National Federation of the Blind, they thought of Dr. Jernigan. This one name came to symbolize the organized blind movement, and the movement found its voice in this man.
When did it happen that these two became one? Was it in 1949, when young Jernigan joined the Federation? Was it in 1952, when he attended his first National Convention? Was it later during that convention at the time of his initial election to the Federations Board of Directors? Did it happen in 1958 when Jernigan became director of statewide programs for the blind in Iowa? Or was it at the point when he became President of the Federation in 1968?
It is impossible to say, of course, exactly when and where the process of mutual convergence had its origin. It may be that the spirit of the man was foreshadowed in the harsh life of the boy on the Tennessee farm in rural America where he spent his early years of blindness and isolation. What we do know is that Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was born on November 13, 1926, and that he died seventy-one years later on October 12, 1998, within a few miles of the Baltimore headquarters of the movement he embodied and personified.
In the course of that lifetime, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan forged out of the raw materials and spare resources of his bleak, lean boyhood a powerfully resilient character and a pragmatic outlook on life. What emerged from his childhood isolation is a determined spirit of independence and self-reliance, coupled with the recognition that cooperative effort is essential for survival. Through his college and teaching years, he developed habits of scholarly learning and intellectual inquiry. Dr. Jernigan came to manifest a distinctive aura of personality-a presence, which projected with unmistakable certainty the fundamental reality that the blind are not prevented from becoming teachers, strategists, leaders, and statesmen. Call it greatness. It is this rare and elusive quality of character that these pages illustrate from many of the speeches and writings, stories and poems, letters and messages of Dr. Jernigan. Let the texts reveal their truths, and let the body of writings illuminate the transcendent soul within.