On Easter Sunday, in the year 1980, Kenneth Jernigan sat down to write an informal Report to the Members on the state of their Federation, over which he had presided for more than a decade. Looking backward through the years he was struck both by the scale of progress in the movement and by the profusion of forms it had taken. If you consider the Federation of 1960 and compare it with the Federation of 1980, he wrote, the advancement is almost unbelievable. In 1960 we customarily had three or four hundred people at our annual convention banquets. We now have in the neighborhood of four times that many! Then, we had no recorded issue of the Braille Monitor, no presidential releases on cassette, no seminars, no nationwide distribution of television and radio public service announcements, no Pre-Authorized Check plan, no members-at-large and Associates program, and no affiliates in several of the states.
The Federation's President continued:
Today, what a difference! The Monitor is the most influential publication in the field of the blind. Whether they admit it or not, our opponents know it as well as we do. Our public service spots cover the airwaves of the nation, and the presidential releases bind us together in a family of unity and a common bond of shared information and interest. We have our own national headquarters building; and our Braille, print, and recorded materials go out by the hundreds of thousands each year.
Our leadership seminars are strengthening our ties as nothing else could. Each year our March on Washington and our continuing NAC demonstrations bring hundreds of us together from throughout the nation to give testimony to our ongoing strength and commitment.
What other group (either of or for the blind) could muster the numbers we bring together to carry out our projects? Everybody knows the answer: None.
So wrote the leader of the world's largest organization of blind people, reviewing the accomplishments and setbacks of the era just past an era that constituted, during most of its span of years, what has come to be known as the first Jernigan presidency. That tenure in office had begun in 1968, following the death of the Federation's founder and first President, Jacobus tenBroek. It came to an end in 1977, when mounting health problems forced Jernigan (temporarily, as it turned out) to resign his office. During those nine years most of the advances and innovations he was later to enumerate, in his Easter Report to the members, came into being along with others which were largely taken for granted, such as the steady but phenomenal growth of Federation membership and attendance at National Conventions. Even in the late sixties the sheer numbers of participating members seemed remarkable to old-timers in the movement; at the Des Moines convention in 1968 there were nearly a thousand people on the floor at peak periods. Some 730 of them attended the banquet that year to applaud their newly installed President as he delivered an inspirational address entitled Blindness: Milestones and Millstones in which he memorialized the passing of the torch from one generation of leaders to the next.
This year [he said] is a time of mourning, and a time of dedication. It is a time to look back, not in anger but in sorrow; and it is a time to look forward, not in complacency but in confidence. It is a time for continuity, and a time for change.
With the death of our beloved President, Dr. tenBroek, we have lost a leader but we have not lost direction. We mourn the passing of a man, but not the end of a movement. On the contrary; he has shown us the way; he has set our feet on the path; he has fired our minds and fueled our resolution. He has passed the torch to us; let us march with it, and hold it high.
And President Jernigan concluded his address to a standing ovation with these resonant words:
Let the word go out from this place and this moment that the torch has been passed to a new generation of blind Americans, a generation born in this century and fully belonging to it, a generation committed to the belief that all men (seeing or blind) are capable of independence and self-direction, of attaining equality and pursuing happiness in their own way, of serving each other and helping themselves of walking alone and marching together.
Between that overture and that conclusion, the new chief executive of the movement defined both the milestones of progress and the millstones of resistance which together marked the pathway of the organized blind into the mainstream of society. His address was an artful blend of the abstract and the concrete of philosophical discussion and practical illustration alternating in tone and substance between the rhetoric of high purpose and the immediacy of the telling example. With his homespun manner and the trace of a rural Tennessee accent, Jernigan wore his learning lightly; he made his points often through anecdote, and nearly as often the anecdote was personal, drawn from his own life and expressive of his inner feelings. If his language was frequently poetic, it could also be blunt and earthy; as he himself once put it (alluding to a favored blind trade of the sheltered shops), Let us call a spade a spade, and a broom a broom and let the broomcorn fall where it may.
When Kenneth Jernigan rose in Des Moines to give his maiden speech as NFB President, he was scarcely an unknown quantity to the audience of Federationists; he had been a national leader of the movement for over fifteen years and second in command for a decade. Moreover, he was thoroughly familiar to the members as a speaker and writer, much in demand at state conventions and frequently on display in the pages of the Braille Monitor. But this time it was different; now it was the presidency, and this was the banquet address. There was a new authority in the speaker's voice on this night, a new dimension to his presence; and the audience was quick to respond to it. Here was not merely a new hand at the helm but a new voice on the rostrum, a distinctive personality and style which rang out through the phrases of this noteworthy speech the first one in a distinguished series of presidential addresses which would epitomize the movement of the organized blind for nearly a score of years to come.
Here is the text of that address as given at the l968 convention banquet: BLINDNESS MILESTONES AND MILLSTONES
The presidential succession which took place in l968 when the convention chose Kenneth Jernigan to assume the chair left vacant by the death of Jacobus tenBroek symbolized more than a ceremonial changing of the guard. It represented, as we have already noted, a transition of the generations from the era of the founders the pathfinders who blazed the trail and laid the foundations of the movement to their successors of the second generation, who in turn were to build upon that bedrock an expanding institutional structure that in time would tower over the field of work with the blind and cast a lengthening shadow of authority and influence across the land.
That symbolic structure the National Federation of the Blind had its original epicenter in California: the state where Jacobus tenBroek lived and taught, where Newel Perry presided as mentor and godfather to the movement, and where such early leaders as Raymond Henderson, Perry Sundquist, and Muzzy Marcelino formed a nucleus around which the Federation grew and flourished in the forties and fifties. California also could claim in that period one of the few training and orientation centers for the blind in the nation; and it was the magnet of that center which, combined with the opportunity to work directly with Dr. tenBroek, attracted a young teacher of the blind named Kenneth Jernigan to the Bay Area in the early fifties, where he and Dr. tenBroek commenced the close working relationship that was to endure until the latter's death. During these years it could be said, with considerable truth, that as California goes, so goes the Federation.
The epicenter of Federationism as a national movement began gradually to shift following the transfer of Kenneth Jernigan to Des Moines in l958 to become director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. During the sixties the Iowa Commission was transformed from possibly the worst rehabilitation agency in the nation (in l957 it was the lowest of all in job placements) to arguably the best in the nation, by every measure of accomplishment; and in the process of its phenomenal growth it spread Federationism and spawned Federationists. Among the brightest and best who graduated from the Commission's Des Moines orientation center in this period and went forth as leaders of the movement were Marc Maurer, Ramona Walhof, Peggy Pinder, James Omvig, and James Gashel. And, as had occurred earlier in California, the Federation's state affiliate in Iowa grew rapidly to become one of the largest and most effective in the country.
It is believed by many who have observed the Federation closely over the last three decades that Jernigan's years in Iowa contributed more to the current status of the National Federation of the Blind, as well as to the field of work with the blind as a whole, than has generally been recognized. One such person (a former staff member) capsulized the experience as follows:
In 1958 Kenneth Jernigan became director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind. In 1978 he left Iowa. The coming to Iowa, the twenty years there, and the leaving all three had a significance in the history of the organized blind movement far beyond the simply stated facts. Jernigan's decision to seek out and accept the Iowa position set the focus for the succeeding decades not only for his own career, but, to a large extent, for the Federation as well. Had Jernigan in 1958 chosen to concentrate his monumental youthful energy along the alternate path which he and Dr. tenBroek seriously considered for him a career in national politics the Federation at fifty would hardly resemble the organization as it is today. And of Jernigan himself? Who knows. But the road taken was Iowa and to understand the Federation today, one must explore thoroughly the multiple levels of Jernigan's twenty years as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind for those years and what has come to be known in broad sweep as the Iowa Experience forever changed the world for the blind even for those who didn't know then and who don't know now anything about Iowa.
The tangibles the huge library with its books-on-demand transcription program, the Orientation Center, the thoroughly modern headquarters building, the state-of-the-art equipment, the salary schedules above those for other state workers and the intangibles the gleaming corridor floors, the invitations to the Governors' Balls, the Presidential Citation, the international visitors, the upbeat media attention, the crisp yes sirs and no ma'ams all proclaimed in ringing tones that which was the central core of the Iowa Experience: It is respectable to be blind. To be in Iowa meant total immersion in that philosophical precept which shaped and permeated it all from the inconsequential to the bedrock.
Some saw in Iowa a state rehabilitation agency, giving solid service to the blind of the state and enabling them to become part of the economic, social, and cultural fabric of their communities. And they were right. Thousands of blind Iowans are living testimony.
Some saw a model, a working embodiment of Federation philosophy in action which could be duplicated. And they, too, were right. Over the years they came, and looked. They learned and believed and went away and built elsewhere. In varying degrees, with surges forward amid steps backward, from the Southeast to the Northwest tens of thousands were touched.
Some saw a threat to an entrenched system of blindness agencies which denied the capacity of the blind to live normal lives and earn competitive wages. And The National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped was born.
For some clients, staff, and observers (both blind and sighted) it was a training ground, in a sense the Federation's West Point. The finer points of philosophy were argued for hours on end; public officials were managed with carrots and sticks; alternative skills and techniques of blindness were honed to perfection; and the mind was stretched with exercises in logical reasoning a familiar sound being a student roaming the halls muttering, If a squirrel and a half ate a nut and a half in a day and a half, how many nuts could nine squirrels eat in nine days?
In many these experiences forged a lifelong and unshakable commitment to the National Federation of the Blind. During the three decades (1960-1990) those who had the benefit of the intensity of the Iowa training during the Jernigan years (1958-1978) that unique mixture of skills training, mental discipline, attitude examination, love, compassion, determination, and hope which were the heart of Kenneth Jernigan's Iowa program fanned out across the country assuming leadership positions at the local, state, and national levels. One need only make a cursory review of the leadership roles of the organized blind movement to assess the impact of the Iowa years.
Jernigan's establishment of the Iowa Commission for the Blind program in 1958 had been a necessary and logical step in the Federation's long-term strategy to build full first-class status for the blind. The tangible success of the program in proving that the average blind person could, indeed, hold the average job in the average place of business vindicated Federation philosophy and set the pace for others to emulate.
Equally necessary and logical in the Federation's long-term strategy was Jernigan's move in 1978 to Baltimore to establish the National Center for the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind had become so central a factor in the entire blindness system that its principal leader could no longer (or ever again) be constrained by ties to any governmental entity. With the move to Baltimore and the establishment and expansion of the National Center for the Blind, Jernigan was freed to concentrate his full attention on building in depth from the grass roots up the far-flung yet focused mechanism which by the end of the decade of the 1980s had become the powerful force of the National Federation of the Blind.
During the seventies there was to be yet another shift in the movement's center of gravity; this time, however, it would not be concentrated in a particular state but distributed throughout the country. The movement was to become, in a word, national in character genuinely a National Federation rather than a confederation of autonomous states, with one or another temporarily predominant. There were various reasons for this new nationalism in the organized blind movement among them the vibrant role of the National Convention; the spread of the Braille Monitor; the development of leadership seminars; and the initiation of recorded presidential releases, which were sent each month to state affiliates and local chapters. But the underlying impetus for the trend derived from a powerful inner force which was transforming the character of the National Federation from that of an ordinary association to that of a special kind of community.
The National Federation of the Blind had been founded on twin premises one theoretical and the other practical. From the very outset its leaders knew that a set of principles, well-understood and carefully applied, was essential to its success. Equally important to success was the building of a strong, effectively run organization to implement the basic principles. The prudent marriage of philosophy and activism issued, over the years, into the unique community of Federationism.
Before the founding of the National Federation, there had been little community among the blind, in America or elsewhere. There were hundreds of thousands of blind individuals who composed a distinguishable population; but they were rarely aware of anything in common other than the lack of sight. It was Jacobus tenBroek, educator and theorist, who gave to this scattered collection of blind Americans a set of guiding principles and a solid structure through which to nurture and actualize them. In turn it was the special genius of Kenneth Jernigan to turn the structure into a community.
The notion of a blind community evolved gradually within the structure of the National Federation of the Blind. Through the early years recruitment into the ranks of the Federation was slow and sporadic, and growth was further hampered by the civil war of the late fifties. But the years of battle, internal and external alike, not only tested and tempered the mettle of the Federationists who endured; it also made of them kindred spirits, co-participants in a movement, brothers and sisters of an extended family in short, members of a close-knit community. By the end of the sixties, there was evolving in the ranks of the Federation an almost palpable spirit of joint venture and common purpose what one member calledsharing and caring defined by the proven capacity of the members to achieve together what none could do alone. This was a community forged by an act of will, a collective act, on the part of a once-scattered people traditionally discouraged from organizing or associating. They had been brought together in l940 by a common need; now they were beginning to come together through a common bond. Such a bond was far from customary among the blind.
It should be remembered that blindness itself has always been isolating in multiple ways. First of all, it was commonly assumed by blind persons and those about them that independent mobility the simple act of getting around on one's own was impossible for the blind. Second, attitudes about blindness often contained an element of social embarrassment and discomfort occasioned by the very presence of a blind person making everyone feel relieved when he stayed homewhere he belonged. Third, many people both sighted and blind associated blindness with helplessness; hence, a blind person (one not acquainted with the Federation and its philosophy) often attempted to cover a lack of self-confidence by assuring himself that he was better than other blind people the rest of whom were clearly more helpless than he was. Accordingly all contact with other blind people was to be rigorously avoided. While Jacobus tenBroek had recognized these isolating factors from the outset of the movement, it was Kenneth Jernigan who took it upon himself in the early fifties as a teacher and counselor to work directly with blind persons to overcome this isolation and turn around the defeatist attitudes. First in California and later in Iowa, Jernigan worked in orientation and adjustment centers for the adult blind, bringing blind people together from geographically scattered locations into a single setting. There he concentrated upon instilling into them a sense of independence and self-reliance, grounded in the recognition that they could be proud of their own accomplishments and that they might share this pride with others. Hundreds of blind persons, through the years, learned the meaning of independence from Dr. Jernigan and returned as self-confident citizens to find careers and establish families in their home communities. Many of them thereafter made a point of retaining their contacts with Dr. Jernigan and his colleagues and of reaching out in their turn to other blind men and women open to the new ideas. As one of these former students put it Recruitment into the Federation is still a matter of one person telling another. And the rate of transmission of the message was accelerated, year by year, as more and more students learned independence and moved confidently out into the world, spreading the word as they went.
But independence alone was never sufficient; there were still the stumbling-blocks of public disbelief and rejection. For these blind men and women of the new generation found that while they might now find a competitive job, raise a family, pay taxes, get about in the world, and generally take pride in themselves, they could still be ejected from a restaurant if the owner deemed their presence disturbing to other patrons. Jernigan's students (and those that they in turn recruited) discovered that there were problems to be solved and changes to be made that no blind individual alone could manage; only collective action could do the job. Like the members of the organized labor movement before them, they learned that in union there is strength. But there was an added dimension the closeness of a shared crusade, which touched every aspect of the lives of its participants. In particular, the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind more and more took on the qualities of a giant meeting of the clan, or the reunion of a vast extended family, while also retaining its practical function as a forum for concerted action. By the end of the sixties the outlines of a genuine community were becoming visible within the structure of the organized blind movement.
As the decade of the seventies got under way, the Federation was growing and flourishing on all fronts. The days of the civil war were nearly a decade in the past no longer within the experience or even the memory of many current members. States never previously organized were now joining the national movement and states once torn by civil strife were rejoining in a campaign led by President Jernigan to establish beachheads, in the form of affiliates, in all fifty states. Local chapters were proliferating and individual membership, in all parts of the country, was rapidly expanding. Every year the National Convention broke existing attendance records (in l969 the number officially registered was 770; in l97l it was l,00l; and in l973 it was l,506). No one was heard complaining about this trend; nevertheless it began to be recognized that growth itself, for all its virtues, could generate problems of its own if not carefully channeled: problems of complexity, enormity, and anonymity. These growing pains, of course, were unknown to the previous generation. Through the early decades of the movement, leaders of talent had emerged infrequently and were then swiftly brought into the circle of leadership where everyone knew everyone else and worked closely together. But with the growth and geographic spread of the Federation, the possibility arose of individual leaders in various parts of the country becoming isolated from one another and working in different directions, thus sowing the seeds of future discord. With this situation in mind, President Jernigan in l973 instituted a series of leadership training seminars which were to become a permanent fixture in the movement. The object of the seminars, then and later, was to bring together in the setting of the national headquarters a number of members (averaging about 25) from throughout the country who had demonstrated leadership and commitment to the goals of the Federation. From their inception the seminars were held two or three times yearly, at first in Des Moines and later in Baltimore. By l990 not a single state remained unrepresented by at least a few seminar participants over the years and there was no state which was not stronger for the experience.
The special value of these seminars, for those who took part in them, stemmed in large part from the intensity of the experience. The seminarians lived and learned and worked together for four active days, at close quarters with one another and with the national President (first Kenneth Jernigan and later Marc Maurer). They came to know the institutional workings of the national headquarters; they learned the history of the movement from the people who made it; they mastered the structure of the basic laws governing work with the blind, and they reasoned through (and talked and argued through) the handling of hundreds of problematic situations drawn from actual experience which were posed to them by the President. These contingencies gave the new leaders an opportunity to ponder issues of administration, of policy-making, of finance, and of the routine daily tasks of keeping a movement composed mainly of volunteers working happily along toward its goals. The outcome of each of these seminars was and remained a disciplined body of Federationists, schooled in history and relevant law, skilled in the arts of leadership, and welded together through the bonds of friendship and camaraderie. Whenever these seminarians attended a National Convention, they found a ready-made group of companions to whom to turn for advice, for assistance, and for association.
For over a decade and a half these national seminars produced a substantial corps of Federation leaders, dispersed widely through the country yet held together by the ties of comradeship. Largely because of this informal network of seminarians, the Federation's National Convention during the course of the seventies ceased to be a collection of separate state delegations and took on the character of a true distillation of the national blind community what one Federationist called asecular society of friends. The NFB convention traditionally held each year in the week surrounding Independence Day afforded a panoply of illustrations of this communal spirit in action. Blind people from all walks of life willingly took on a variety of tasks that might have nothing to do with their backgrounds but everything to do with helping the convention run smoothly. Some of them stood for hours at a stretch, directing traffic or assisting at microphones; others worked at an array of tables, demonstrating new devices or handing out literature. But it was more than the mechanics of the convention for which these members tended to feel responsible; it was the well-being and high spirits of others as well. Should a member turn up with a new baby, for example, what seemed like half the convention might drop by to meet the child. And if a family had suffered a loss, hundreds of Federationists were likely to come around to express their sympathy.
In l989, a much-loved member who happened to be the spouse of the Nebraska state president suddenly died just before the National Convention. The most poignant moment of that year's convention came during the roll call of states on Thursday morning, July 6, when Nebraska was called. After giving the detailed information required of each official delegate, Barbara Walker who was attending the convention with her two young children spoke these words to the three thousand people in the auditorium:
I want to say to everyone here that our Federation family does many things for many people. At this particular time I want to thank everyone for the support that has been shown to my family as we go through the most difficult time I have ever known. I want in particular to thank Fred Schroeder for the eulogy he delivered on behalf of this organization at the services for Jim. It reached many people. I have received calls from people who have opposed our organization on many occasions who, I believe, were reached (and reached deeply) by the message. As we continue in the various struggles which we have to face, I will pledge to do my best to do the work which Jim faithfully honored all the years of his life. I need our Federation family very much right now, and everyone here is responding in a way that is unbelievable to me. Thank you very much.
The National Convention meant many things to many different people. Sometimes it was very personal. One year, a member had found a job in another town but lacked the money to move; his fellow Federationists reached into their pockets and made the move possible. Another year a member was running for elective office; conventioneers from all over the country contributed to the campaign of this blind person who was venturing forth into elective politics. Sometimes it was a small matter that spoke of trust and caring such as the time when a blind machinist brought her own tools to the convention to show other blind people how she did it. She described her job and then asked that the tools be passed around. They were valuable implements, and someone worried aloud that she might not get them back from the two thousand-plus people in the room. Over the microphone she laughed and said she was not concerned; her fellow Federationists would see to that. She was right, of course.
The Federation's soaring rate of internal growth which only a few years before had been halted and reversed under the stress of civil war was surpassing expectations even before the eventful decade of the sixties had come to an end. At the 1969 convention held in Columbia, South Carolina, the number of delegates in attendance approached 1,000. It was at the Columbia convention that President Jernigan seized upon and adapted to new purposes the favorite catchword of the sixties: revolution. He spoke in his banquet address of a revolution that had just begun to happen a revolution of the future as well as of the present a revolution in the field of blindness that will replace old outlooks with new insights. In sounding the thematic note that more than any other seemed to epitomize the decade of the sixties in America, Jernigan was also striking a chord for the seventies which would resound throughout his first presidency: a new spirit of aggressive self-confidence and determination on the part of the organized blind. Other Jernigan speeches before this one and many more to follow would also emphasize this theme of forceful resolution, of the sense of a new identity (we know who we are) and of refusal to turn back or be turned around. But in 1969, in a strongly worded address entitled "Blindness: New Insights on Old Outlooks," the Federation's President expressed these concepts with unsurpassed cogency and flair.
The full text of that speech follows: BLINDNESS: NEW INSIGHTS ON OLD OUTLOOKS
Increasingly Jernigan was asked to address official gatherings concerned with broad issues of education and the general welfare. One such occasion was a Governor's Conference on the Future of Education held in Des Moines during October, 1969, and attended by over 800 educators and other professionals. Dr. Jernigan was invited, as an educator himself, to speak on the then-controversial subject of innovation in education. His response, although it did not deal directly with blindness and the blind, was infused with the philosophy and outlook he had acquired through two decades of association with both the organized blind and the service agencies of the blindness system. This is what he had to say:
by Kenneth Jernigan
The question before us on this panel is: Educational Innovation Panacea or Pandemonium. My response to that question is, summarily, that innovation cannot be a panacea, and need not become pandemonium. At the least it is a palliative, and at best it may be a progression. Nothing is more evident today, to the layman as well as to the expert, than our systems for the delivery of learning that is, our schools are in trouble. Not only in Iowa, but all over the land and at all levels from elementary to university we seem to be going up the down staircase.
At the college level, students in significant proportions, if not in alarming numbers, militantly confront and sometimes defy their professors and administrators. The common denominator of their various demands is, however, not revolution at least not yet but innovation. The cliche most commonly employed to express this demand is relevance; and that tiresome term (if it means anything at all) means new departures both in the substance and procedure, the goals and the methods, of academic experience. But that is not all there is to the theme of innovation in higher education. Two recent and broadly influential studies of the college crisis, neither of them concerned primarily with student protest and both of them the work of sociologists illustrate in their titles the centrality of the principle of innovation. One is The Academic Revolution, by Christopher Jencks and David Riesman; the other is The Reform of General Education, by Daniel Bell. Let me, for the moment, simply take note of this pervasive and persistent emphasis on innovation in the current literature on the higher learning in America.
At the secondary level the issues are not quite the same but are no less caught up in considerations of reform and experimental change. Here the problem is more commonly one of drop-outs than of sit-ins (although Students for a Democratic Society, as you know, has begun a campaign to organize the high schools); and questions of contemporary relevance, immediacy, and cogency, are the burning issues in social studies, if not everywhere else in the curriculum.
At the elementary level, where creativity has its native stronghold, the theme of innovation has been a constant perhaps the only constant for more generations than any one now living can remember. Whatever may be said in criticism of our primary schools today, they are a far cry from the Dotheboys Halls of Dickens's time, where Nicholas Nickleby and his fellow scholars carried on their rote learning and ritual recitations in constant terror and discomfort under pain of daily floggings designed to correct that constitutional flaw in the disposition of all children known to the devout as infant depravity.
Innovation in the shape of humanitarian reform and child-centered learning entered the American schoolhouse with John Dewey and his progressive philosophy even before the turn of the century. It has since been revitalized through successive theoretical transfusions, notably the self-motivating methods of the Montessori school; and today, after many backings and fillings, innovation is again a conspicuous feature of learning theory and methodology in elementary education. But the tide, of course, does not flow all one way. The innovative spirit, with its passion for change and its impatience toward convention, never proceeds very far in any community without encountering resistance; and in the present conservative climate of opinion across the country (brought on in large part, as I believe, by excessive demands for change), it is unlikely that innovators will have their way entirely at any stage of the educational ladder.
No doubt this is as it should be. The history of American education may well be read as a dialectical process of alternating challenge and response between the forces of innovation and those of tradition. But it should not be supposed that this competition of viewpoints is unhealthy in principle or destructive in tendency. On the contrary, it is the educational analogue of the democratic political process on one hand and of the competitive enterprise system on the other. For the debate I am talking about is not over ends and basic values, but rather over means and interpretations. The real enemy of innovation, it should be understood, is not tradition but inertia. Tradition, wherever it is viable and valuable, welcomes change and progress; innovation, wherever it is sensible and successful, soon turns into tradition. The relationship between innovation and tradition, in the school as in society, is properly not one of conflict but of continuity. Each perspective in fact needs the other. Without regular injections of innovative energy, tradition deteriorates into dogma; without the sober and corrective prudence of traditional wisdom, innovation becomes mere novelty, hovering on the edge of chaos.
I hope that I have said enough to demonstrate my own partiality for innovation, disciplined by a respect for the past in the curriculum and the classroom at all levels of the educational system. Indeed, it would be a betrayal of my own professional career and commitment were I to suggest otherwise. As director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind over the past dozen years, I have been at the storm center (some might say I have been the storm center) of full-fledged revolution in the education of blind people away from conventional indoctrination in the sheltered blind trades and from adjustment to lives of quiet desperation toward the higher ground of complete equality, independence, and participation. The blind students who pass through our rehabilitation center here in Des Moines emerge not as dependent conformists ready for the broom shop and the rocking chair, but as self-sufficient citizens ready to lead their own lives, to go their own way and to grow their own way rebels against the establishment, no doubt, but rebels with a cause. That cause, that sense of mission, may be defined as faith in their own capacity, individually and collectively, to assume the active role of change agents in the uncomprehending world around them: more specifically, to reconstruct the social landscape of the country of the blind. Our commitment in the programs of the Iowa Commission is therefore to innovation in the fullest sense, both in ends and means; and in the exercise of this commitment we are continuously experimenting and improvising, remaking and revamping, branching out and breaking through, in every phase of our operation.
Having said that much for innovation, let me reverse direction and say a few words against it. It is a truism that we live in an age more accustomed to change, more comfortable with abrupt transitions and large-scale alterations, than any previous age in history. Moreover, we Americans are geared toward the future, almost obsessively forward-looking, utterly fascinated with the shape of things to come. Planning, forecasting, prognosticating, predicting, projecting, extrapolating these are our characteristic national pastimes. Witness, as a case in point, the structure and focus of the present conference. Its subject is education, yes; but it is noteducation today, let alone education in retrospect or in historical perspective. No; it is The Future of Education. And the opening panel this morning was appropriately entitled "2001: An Education Odyssey."
Well and good. As an avid science-fiction reader and amateur futurist myself, it would come with ill grace from me to scorn this forward-oriented posture. My concern is only that, in our haste to get to tomorrowland, in our absorption with the themes of change and innovation, we may overlook the stubborn realities of today and disdain the crucial lessons of yesterday. In the field of education, as in that of government, we cannot afford to break precipitously with what Walter Lippmann has termed the traditions of civility and what Edmund Burke called the prudential wisdom of the past. For to break away from that usable past is to break away from the moorings of civilization itself and to drift unpiloted not toward the good society of our dreams but toward the Brave New World of our nightmares.
It is not only innovation which cannot be regarded as a panacea for our problems. Education itself must not be burdened with unreasonable demands and expectations. It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the schools, and especially of the universities, in the future conduct of our civilization; but it would not be at all difficult to overestimate their capacities and resources. As far back as a decade ago Dr. John W. Gardner, the president of the Carnegie Corporation and since Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Johnson Administration, could declare: The role of the universities is undergoing a remarkable change. They are thrust into a position of great responsibility in our society a position more central, more prominent, more crucial to the life of the society than academic people ever dreamed possible. Indeed, it is this explosive growth of the American college system which Professors Jencks and Riesman have designated the academic revolution and which they describe in their magisterial volume in tones fraught at least as much with concern and apprehension as with optimism and affirmation. Just as the lower schools cannot be all things to all children, so the universities cannot be all things to all men. In short, to avoid falling into pandemonium we must avoid falling back upon panaceas.
In the allocation of roles and values to the educational enterprise, we shall need to keep our heads and maintain our balance in more ways than the one under discussion in this panel. If it is important to strike a balance between the forces of innovation and those of tradition, it is equally vital to balance the values of a general or liberal education against those of vocational and professional training. And most crucial of all may be the need to balance the esthetic and moral persuasions of the soft humanities against the aggressive imperatives of the hard sciences. Let us admit that there is no imminent danger of our neglecting or disparaging the latter. Between Sputnik I and Apollo II, little more than a decade apart, we have thoroughly redirected and rededicated our educational investment toward the advancement of science and the nurture of its technological progeny. I have no desire to minimize the magnificent accomplishments which have resulted from that national decision. The proof, after all, is in the pudding or, rather, the proof is written on the moon and stars. But possibly the time has arrived for a reassessment of educational priorities and of the social values that undergird them. As we rocket down the skyways and spaceways of the future, let us not forget what the year 1984 conjured up in the mind of one sensitive futurologist the British author George Orwell. It was a vision of hell in the shape of a technological paradise. It was the anticipation of a future society which had lost its head, its nerve, and its soul. That imaginary civilization failed, not for lack of innovation or of information not for lack of scientific and technical skills or of psychological knowledge but for lack of belief in the values and requirements of free men. Its failure, in a word, was educational. I cannot leave this issue without a brief extension of my remarks in a particular direction.
In all that I have said thus far I have, perhaps, been guilty of perpetuating the favored illusion of schoolmasters, that education is a strictly formal affair confined to primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions and to the span of years between five and twenty-one after which it vanishes like the Cheshire Cat, leaving only a bad taste and a wry grin behind. That assumption is, of course, pedantic poppycock. Education is merely learning, intellectual or cognitive growth, and it proceeds continuously in one form or another from cradle to grave. Much of this lifelong process is, to be sure, what Paul Goodman has labeled mis-education and others have termed negative learning a good deal of which takes place in unstructured settings (such as watching TV) and even in unwitting or unconscious circumstances (such as watching TV commercials). Learning of a more active kind occurs in other situations, which are wholly or partially non-academic and extra-curricular, but which function as extensions of the academy classrooms without walls, as it were. Many of these settings are sufficiently well known to need no mention; but there are others, close to my own experience, which are germane to our theme of educational innovation. Perhaps the most far-reaching example of informal education today, involving millions of Americans, is to be found in the vast array of public aids and services aimed at the disabled, disadvantaged, and deprived. Not all of these services of course entail the transmission of new learning; but it is remarkable how many of them do, and in how many ways. Here are a few: vocational rehabilitation, vocational education, compensatory education, counseling and guidance, self-support and self-care, group therapy and sensitivity training, apprenticeship and internship programs, VISTA, Manpower Development and Training, Youth Corps, Head Start, Upward Bound, orientation and adjustment services, and so on and on.
In these proliferating programs of quasi-educational impact, already almost more in number than anyone can tabulate, there is continuous innovation and that is doubtless to the good. But there is also continuous indoctrination and that is presumably to the bad. If the millions of citizen-clients are not being enlightened by these services, they are unquestionably being influenced; and I wish only to suggest that we might do well to ponder the quality and direction of that educative influence.
As someone has surely said before me: when tyranny comes to America, it is likely to come in the guise of services.
I can do no better, in bringing my remarks to an end, than to offer you a quotation from a small book which has meant much to me, and perhaps also to some of you The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran:
Then said a teacher, "Speak to us of Teaching."
And he said: "No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge."
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness. If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.
In 1970, at the Federation's thirtieth anniversary convention, President Jernigan delivered a banquet address which many veteran members of the movement were later to regard as among the most eloquent of his long career in the leadership of the organized blind. Speaking on the topic, "Blindness: The Myth and the Image," Jernigan exposed the hidden dimension of mythology and superstition which still conditioned social attitudes toward the blind. In particular he struck at thedisaster concept of blindness with its melodramatic insistence upon regarding every blind person as a tragic figure; and he demonstrated in graphic detail that this mythical image was prevalent not merely in public opinion but in professional policy and practice.
Here in full is the text of that speech: BLINDNESS: THE MYTH AND THE IMAGE
From its beginning the Federation was concerned with the nature of leadership and the relation of that leadership to the individual members throughout the organization. Philosophical questions dealing with the principles of leadership commonly alternated in conventions and conferences with pragmatic issues dealing with the tactics of leadership. Oncoming leaders of the younger generation exchanged views with grizzled veterans of the first generation; elective officers and rank-and-file members parleyed at meetings and collaborated on resolutions defining, amending, and fine-tuning the functions of leadership. And successive Presidents, like Kenneth Jernigan at the 1971 convention in Houston, shared their thoughts and convictions with the throng of attending members in annual presidential reports as well as in the more ceremonial banquet addresses.
There is a kind of covenant in this organization between the membership in convention and the Executive,said President Jernigan in the course of his 1971 report.I've tried to keep the faith with you, and I believe you have kept it with me. The President of this organization is not simply an impartial chairman presiding over a group of disjointed affiliates. I believe that you elect a President to conduct an administration; that you elect him to take stands on issues; and that you expect him to lead. I believe that if he doesn't lead the way you want him to lead, that you can and will rise up and throw him out. And that's what democracy means.
The President continued: I think you ought to throw me out of office just as much for inaction or for over-caution, for not leading, for not doing things to help blind people, as you would for rash or precipitous actions and for ill-timed judgments. In other words, I believe that you elected me to lead a movement to try to improve the conditions of the blind, and as long as I'm President, so help me God, I'm going to lead.
We are a cohesive, spiritual movement,he concluded. We are an army of liberation for blind people. We are a tough, fighting force. We are a responsible organization. We are a call to conscience and I think, incidentally, that we are unstoppable and unbeatable.
In his banquet address at the 1971 convention Jernigan linked the theme of leadership with that of relationship more particularly, the various and shifting relationships between the organized blind and elements of the blindness system. In a rousing speech received with waves of applause and a final standing ovation, the NFB President warned all who still clung to the old ways of condescension and caretaking that a day of reckoning was at hand. We don't want strife or dissension, he said, but the time is absolutely at an end when we will passively tolerate second-class citizenship and custodial treatment. We are free men, and we intend to act like it. We are free men, and we intend to stay that way. We are free men, and we intend to defend ourselves. Let those who truly have the best interest of the blind at heart join with us as we move into the new era of equality and integration. Let those who call our conduct negative or destructive make the most of it.
The full text of his speech tersely and aptly entitled "To Man the Barricades" follows:
When the delegates gathered in Chicago for the 1972 convention, their numbers and enthusiasm gave tangible evidence of the growing impact which the Federation was having on the lives of the blind of the nation. Themes of leadership and relationship of what role the blind should play in determining their own destiny and in their interaction with the governmental and private agencies established to give them service, as well as with the general public were again major focal points of attention and discussion. By 1972 the ranks of the first generation had thinned. This was the second generation (the new generation) taking up the banner and carrying it forward in the Federation's struggle for equal treatment and first-class status in society. In this banquet address President Jernigan captured the mood of the convention and charted the course for the years ahead.
We must never forget the historic and social significance of our movement or lose perspective in the momentary triumph of victory or sadness of defeat, he told the banquet audience.The course is well-marked and clear. It has been from the beginning; and, unless we lose our nerve or betray our ideals, there can be absolutely no question that the future is ours.
He went on to declare that, more than ever in matters affecting the blind,the choice is fundamentally one of competing philosophies. On one side is the philosophy which regards the blind as innately different and inferior to the sighted. On the other side is the philosophy which regards us as innately normal and equal to the sighted. These two conceptions compete with one another in virtually every area of life from occupation to recreation, and from cradle to grave. One of them regards blindness as a dead end; the other regards it as a live option.
Here is the text of the 1972 banquet address: BLINDNESS: THE NEW GENERATION
One of the more tangible signs of the new mood of exuberant confidence which characterized the organized blind movement during the first Jernigan presidency (roughly corresponding to the decade of the seventies) was the singular annual pilgrimage that came to be known as the March on Washington and later as the Washington Seminar. Beginning in 1973, the National Federation of the Blind organized these enthusiastic gatherings of members from across the country typically numbering in the hundreds who trekked to the nation's capital for visits with their congressmen to talk about matters of concern to the blind. James Gashel, the Federation's Director of Governmental Affairs, described a typical three-day gathering in an article in the July-August, 1979, Braille Monitor. His authoritative account makes clear both the political impact and the educational value not to mention the inspirational effect of this yearly mobilization of blind people in the capital city. Gashel's report also offers an insight into the complexities of the legislative process at the top level of government with all its formal hearings, informal meetings, and still more informal maneuvers and compromises. Finally, this story reveals something about its author, the Federation's ingenious and indefatigable man in Washington. Here is the text of his report:
by James Gashel
Since 1973 when Federationists first turned out in numbers to visit the members of the Congress in their Washington offices, we have developed and refined the technique and come to refer to these gatherings as Marches on Washington. The issues have varied from time to time; the first Marches dealt almost exclusively with NAC and our effort to block further federal funding of this disgraceful AFB power grab maneuver, but by 1976 our voices had been heard sufficiently, and no more federal money went to NAC.
This done, the 1977 March focused on improving services to blind persons through legislation aimed at authorizing special federal funding to separate agencies for the blind which offer comprehensive rehabilitation and related services. We also gathered support for our Disability Insurance bill as the 95th Congress settled in to consider Social Security legislation. Again, the effort and the participation of nearly 200 Federationists who came from across the country at personal expense proved worthwhile, for during the 95th Congress we made progress by securing new authority for specialized services for the blind through the Rehabilitation Act, and we succeeded in obtaining an increase in the amount which blind Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries can earn before losing benefits. Above all, of course, we also renewed our relationships with the law-makers who represent us in Washington, and where we have not had contacts before, we were able to establish them.
The March in 1979 maintained the fine traditions we have built for large turnouts and hard work. The agenda for the three days beginning April 30th and ending May 2nd was packed, but the Federation representatives, who traveled from as far as Utah and Idaho, had enough enthusiasm and stamina to keep pace with the rigorous schedule. Well over one hundred assembled for the advance briefing at 9 p.m. Sunday, April 29th, and by Tuesday, with a fresh contingent of troops from Pennsylvania, our numbers had nearly doubled. President Jernigan opened the Sunday evening meeting by bringing all of us up to date on the most recent national developments, and he outlined the challenge of the three days just ahead. Dr. Jernigan also announced that remodeling of our new national headquarters building was complete, so that visiting Federationists would be able to see the facility fully occupied and operational on Tuesday, May 1st. This was truly the high point of the trip to Washington this time, seeing our own National Office close to the nation's capital and realizing the great potential it offers us for growth.
As for our work on Capitol Hill, the kick-off event was a Senate hearing to review the progress made to date in implementing the Randolph-Sheppard Act Amendments of 1974. Senator Randolph presided over the hearing in the beginning, receiving testimony from a panel of NFB leaders and government witnesses. The full text of the NFB testimony will appear elsewhere in this issue. While our spokesmen were Arthur Segal, president of the Blind Merchants Division; James Sofka, president of the NFB of New Jersey; Victor Gonzalez, chairman, Agency Relations Committee, NFB of West Virginia; and James Gashel, the voice of the NFB was also heard in numbers, over 150 strong as we crowded into the packed hearing room, filling every chair and lining the walls.
This was known as an oversight hearing which Congressional committees conduct from time to time to see what steps should or can be taken to better enforce the laws. NFB Resolution 78-19 expressed the Federation's outrage at the statements and diversionary tactics of some of the major federal agencies which have been maneuvering to avoid providing business opportunities for blind vendors on federal property. The resolution called for oversight hearings, so we set to work on this by asking Senator Randolph to place this item on the top of the agenda for the Subcommittee on the Handicapped during the 96th Congress, and the Senator responded positively. In fact, this was the first hearing conducted by the Subcommittee, and it generated a great deal of attention.
Although oversight hearings rarely solve anything, they help to get issues and evidence on the record, and the data uncovered by this hearing will be of real value as we seek improved business opportunities through the vending facilities program. At this writing, the record is not fully developed (much is done in writing before and after the hearing), but we learned a number of interesting things. For example, we were told that there are presently 291 cafeterias which could be operated by blind persons on Department of Defense property, but only one (located on a military base in Ohio) is currently in the Randolph-Sheppard program. Upon hearing this, Federation representatives from that state sent word to the front that the base served by this cafeteria will be closed in two years a fact which certainly dims the military's shining example. It was obvious to everyone that especially the Department of Defense was having a hard go at finding good things to say about their responsiveness to the Randolph-Sheppard Act, for although it had nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of the hearing, the representative from the Defense Department made a point of explaining how much the military is actually doing to help the blind, helping us, that is, by doing business with the sheltered workshops through National Industries for the Blind. Apparently this man has not been reading the Wall Street Journal , and the Subcommittee was not impressed.
The hearing proceeded somewhat in this vein with the federal government witnesses trying to explain to Senator Randolph how much they supported the blind vendor program and with the Senator probing each of them with specific questions regarding their agency's lack of compliance with the law. Senator Randolph had heard our message, and he did his best to help bring out the issues. Later, he made his commitment clear as some of us met with him during lunch in the Senate dining room while the Subcommittee staff took testimony from other witnesses, including the American Council of the Blind. Specifically, we discussed how best to use the results of this hearing to improve the situation for blind vendors, and we agreed on the approach of establishing an action agenda for solving specific issues. Already we have initiated this process with an on-the-spot investigation of some problems in the blind vending program in West Virginia, but much more remains to be done.
With the oversight hearing concluded, we set to work on other legislative concerns; high among them, of course, our continued drive for minimum wage protection for blind people. In the March issue of the Braille Monitor we described a rule-making petition which the NFB has filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, but this does not spell an end to our efforts to achieve the same goal legislatively. In fact, the work in the Congress on this is very much in high gear. On April 26, Congressman Phillip Burton introduced the Minimum Wage for the Blind bill once again; the number for this Congress is H.R. 3764, and the bill is identical to H.R. 8104, which Mr. Burton introduced in the 95th Congress and which stirred up much interest, including attracting the Wall Street Journal 's awareness through the hearing which was held.
Elsewhere in this issue we will reprint the fact sheet used by Federation representatives to explain the current law and its negative impact on the earning power and the personal dignity of productive blind workers. This fact sheet should be helpful to all Federationists in asking for support and co-sponsorship of H.R. 3764 by the members of the House of Representatives. In fact, all members of the House should be asked to co-sponsor the Minimum Wage for the Blind bill, and they should inform Phillip Burton of their desire to do so. Soon we hope to announce some action on a Senate version of this bill, but for now our attention must be focused on the House.
With respect to minimum wage, it is important to note that the new chairman of the Labor Standards Subcommittee (the Subcommittee in the House to which H.R. 3764 has been assigned) is Congressman Edward Beard of Rhode Island (a real friend of the Federation) and a co-sponsor of Mr. Burton's minimum wage bill in the 95th Congress. During the March we met with Mr. Beard to discuss plans for this legislation in the present Congress, since he is now in the position of scheduling Subcommittee action. While at this stage there are no specific target dates for Subcommittee consideration of the bill, there is every reason to believe that H.R. 3764 will not sit idle during Mr. Beard's tenure as chairman of the Labor Standards Subcommittee, and yet much, of course, will depend on what we do to gather support for the bill. As we made the rounds on Capitol Hill, we also called attention to the continuing problem of discrimination against the blind in employment. On February 22, Senator Harrison Williams, chairman of the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources introduced a bill known as the Equal Employment Opportunity for the Handicapped Act, which promises substantially increased civil rights protection for persons having handicapping conditions as defined in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The number of Senator William's bill is S. 446, and we are currently working to enlist Senate co-sponsors. The fact sheet which can be used to explain the employment discrimination against blind people which occurs and the potential advantages of S. 446 appears elsewhere. Our efforts in generating interest for this legislation were highly successful, and Senate hearings are now scheduled for June 20th and 21st. Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives we met with Carl Perkins, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, who agreed to support this legislation actively through his leadership position in the House, and we assembled a long list of Representatives who indicated their desire to co-sponsor the companion bill to S. 446 when it is introduced in the House. At this writing, it is too early to announce the number of the House bill, but members of the House of Representatives who wish to co-sponsor the Equal Employment Opportunity for the Handicapped Act should be advised to inform Mr. Perkins of their support. This will help the legislation get underway in the House with a long list of sponsors.
Passage of S. 446 can be seen as the next phase of civil rights protection for blind and handicapped persons which began with our work on the model white cane laws at the state level over the past decade. Also, with the help of Federation support, several states have included the disabled in the state civil rights laws, and it has long been our objective (confirmed in resolution 78-24) to expand our civil rights protection into federal law. Senator William's bill (and the companion bill to be introduced in the House) offers hope that this may now be achieved.
Of course, we must never visit Capitol Hill without continuing to talk about the need for improvements in the Social Security Disability Insurance program. At the end of the 95th Congress, James Burke, who had sponsored our Disability Insurance bills and helped us achieve some progress, retired, leaving the chairmanship of the Social Security Subcommittee in the House of Representatives to Congressman J.J. Pickle of Texas. Unfortunately, Mr. Pickle is not yet of the same persuasion regarding our plans for changing the Social Security Disability Insurance program, so chances for favorable action at the Subcommittee or Committee level (that is, the House Ways and Means Committee) have dimmed.
Nonetheless, our efforts to attract supporters to the concept of improved Disability Insurance for the blind must continue. The fact sheet which explains the history of the proposed legislation and the need for it will also be found elsewhere in this issue, along with Dr. Jernigan's article, "Why Should the Blind Receive Disability Insurance?" (revised and updated to reflect the 1977 Amendments to the Social Security Act).
At least ten members of the House have introduced identical Disability Insurance for the Blind bills in the 96th Congress. The first of these is H.R. 1037, by Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas. Other members who support this legislation should also be encouraged to introduce identical bills. Although it is too early to announce the number yet, Senator Dennis DeConcini of Arizona will soon be introducing a Senate version of this bill, and Senators should be urged to co-sponsor by contacting Senator DeConcini.
At this stage in the 96th Congress it appears that there may be a serious effort to enact legislation making a number of changes in the Social Security Disability Insurance program, but many of these would merely aggravate the problems which now exist in the system rather than solving them. For this reason, we must continue to inform our Senators and Representatives that the Social Security Disability Insurance program fails to meet our needs and helps to keep blind people out of the workforce.
While the foregoing legislative concerns represent longstanding commitments of the Federation to improve the lives of blind people, it also became necessary for us to deal spontaneously with a problem related to our public image as represented by the statement of Joseph Hendrie, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, comparing the confusion at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant in Pennsylvania to a couple of blind men staggering around making decisions. This statement of Dr. Hendrie's was quoted in the national news media only a few days in advance of our March on Washington, and it was clear to everyone that we ought to make a response. This we did in the form of a resolution, which read:
WHEREAS, the official transcript of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held on March 30, 1979, quotes NRC Chairman, Joseph M. Hendrie, as saying: It's like a couple of blind men staggering around making decisions,in describing the actions of officials in dealing with problems at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Generating Facility; and
WHEREAS, Chairman Hendrie's statement demonstrates his personal ignorance and represents the traditional false stereotypes about the helpless and incompetent blind; and
WHEREAS, the principle problem faced by blind men and women not actively participating in the mainstream of American life is the lack of understanding about blindness which exists resulting in widespread discrimination against the blind; and
WHEREAS, Chairman Hendrie's statement can only serve to erode further the public attitude about blindness with the result that it will reduce the chances of full participation in the social and economic life of this country; and
WHEREAS, Chairman Hendrie's gross insensitivity is amplified by his high public office: NOW,
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the representatives of the National Federation of the Blind assembled in Washington, D.C., April 29, 1979, that we demand a public apology by Chairman Joseph M. Hendrie, accompanied by a public commitment to off-set the negative impact of his remarks by establishing the goal of making the Nuclear Regulatory Commission a model employer of blind persons at all levels.
During the March this resolution was hand-carried to Dr. Hendrie's office, and so far the response has been a great deal of hand-wringing and some stumbling words of apology, but no commitment yet to do it publicly. It seems that Dr. Hendrie is a bit skittish about facing the television cameras these days.
From all of this, it is clear that despite the beautiful spring weather which graced Washington during the first week of May, the Federationists who assembled for this year's March had little time to enjoy the scenery. While we had hoped to visit in the office of every member of Congress, we fell just a little short of this goal, hitting nearly 500, which is not too bad considering that there are 535 in all. Of course, the work was hard, but already the results show that it was well done and a worthwhile investment. And speaking of investments, once again we were able to conduct this March on Washington without draining funds from our precious Federation reserves, for those who came realized the necessity to finance the effort and in the end contributed nearly $2,000, which met the inevitable expenses in sponsoring such a gathering. This, along with the hours of dedicated labor which went into making the 1979 March on Washington one of our best, shows the true depth of commitment which characterizes the NFB and distinguishes us as a movement. Often those who would like to keep us from speaking and thinking for ourselves wonder why it is that we continue to surmount the many obstacles they try to erect in our path, but there is no need to wonder, for the Federation is sound and growing in strength, numbers, and commitment every day. Let anyone who wonders about this check the record of our 1979 March, for therein lies the evidence of a viable and vibrant movement, which, over the long haul and the short run is absolutely unstoppable.
For each decade in the life of the National Federation of the Blind, there has been one year in particular that seems to represent a hallmark, somehow capturing and symbolizing the spirit of the age. For the seventies, although each successive year reflected new achievements in the organized blind movement, there was none quite like the year 1973. It was then, as we have noted, that the annual March on Washington was initiated. It was in that year that the national leadership seminars one of the most significant innovations of the first Jernigan presidency got underway. It was in 1973 that the registration of delegates at the annual convention first went over 1,500. And it was in 1973 that the NAC Attack (the demonstrations by the organized blind at top-level NAC meetings) mustered over 1,500 picketers in New York City.
Moreover, it was in 1973, at the New York convention, that President Kenneth Jernigan delivered the first in a series of three annual banquet addresses that represented a distinct departure from his customary style and method though not from his basic philosophy and doctrine. Each of these interconnected speeches presented, in its title, a pertinent and perplexing question about blindness and the blind and then answered it, not merely thoughtfully but on the basis of extensive research. In 1973 the banquet speech was entitled "Blindness: Is History Against Us." The following year the President's address bore the title, "Blindness: Is Literature Against Us" and in 1975 it was "Blindness: Is the Public Against Us. "
The distinctive tone of all of these public addresses was established at the outset. To the questionIs history against us? Jernigan answered with both a yes and a no. We all know what the historical record tells us,he said. It tells us that, until only yesterday, blind people were completely excluded from the ranks of the normal community. Only lately, it would seem, have blind people begun stealthily to emerge from the shadows and to move in the direction of independence and self-sufficiency.
From what histories and historians have told us, said Jernigan, it would seem that the blind have moved through time and the world not only sightless but faceless a people without distinguishing features, anonymous and insignificant not so much as rippling the stream of history.
Nonsense! he exclaimed.That is not fact but fable. That is not truth but a lie. In reality the accomplishments of blind people through the centuries have been out of all proportion to their numbers. There are genius, and fame, and adventure, and enormous versatility of achievement not just once in a great while but again and again, over and over.
Now, said Jernigan, we are at a point in time when the story of the blind (the true and real story) must be told. For too long the blind have been (not unwept, for there has been too much of that) but unhonored and unsung. Let us, at long last, redress the balance and right the wrong. Let us now praise our famous men and celebrate the exploits of blind heroes. Rediscovering our true history, we shall, in our turn, be better able to make history; for when people (seeing or blind) come to know the truth, the truth will set them free.
President Jernigan went on, in this 1973 address, to relate a history of blindness never told before in quite this way, a story not of gloom and doom but of genuine progress and quickening prospect although he pointed out that the history remained unfinished and that the next chapters must be written by the blind themselves. Napoleon is supposed to have said that history is a legend agreed upon. If this is true, then we the blind are in the process of negotiating a new agreement, with a legend conforming more nearly to the truth and the spirit of the dignity of man.
This Jernigan speech presented at the 1973 convention had (not only on the banquet audience who heard it that night but on the blind of the nation) an impact which changed lives and remained undiminished through the years. It gave to blind people a new and unexpected source of pride in themselves the pride that comes from having a history and more importantly it gave them a sense of their own capacity to make a difference: to steer their own lives and to shape their own destiny. In the years that followed this landmark address, more and more historical writings began to appear in the Braille Monitor and other periodicals, telling of remarkable deeds and contributions by blind persons and groups. It might indeed be said that, in a genuine sense, the 1973 speech not only presented a new history of blindness but opened up a new future as well.
The text of the speech follows: BLINDNESS: IS HISTORY AGAINST US
In 1974, at the Federation's convention in Chicago, Kenneth Jernigan undertook a significant variation on the theme of his earlier speech on history and the blind. Last year, he said in his banquet address, I examined with you the place of the blind in history not just what we have done but what the historians have remembered and said we have done. The two, as we found, are vastly different. This year I would like to talk with you about the place of the blind in literature. How have we been perceived? What has been our role? How have the poets and novelists, the essayists and dramatists, seen us? Have they 'told it like it is,' or merely liked it as they told it?
In addressing his topic question Blindness: Is Literature Against UsJernigan noted that the literary record reveals no single theme or viewpoint regarding the blind but instead displays a bewildering variety of images. Yet he claimed to find, upon closer examination of the world of fiction and poetry, of myth and fairy tale, a set of nine separate themes or motifs that recurred again and again. These themes were summarized in a graphic list:
blindness as compensatory or miraculous power; blindness as total tragedy; blindness as foolishness and helplessness; blindness as unrelieved wickedness and evil; blindness as perfect virtue; blindness as punishment for sin; blindness as abnormality or dehumanization; blindness as purification; and blindness as symbol or parable.
Each of these recurrent themes was traced to its sources and varied expressions in literature and each one in turn was then exposed as false, fraudulent, or (at best) fictitious in the full sense of the term. In its multitudinous parade of authors and its array of illustrations and examples as well as in the scholarship which lay behind the writing this 1974 address was an effective counterpart to the previous speech on history and historiography and, like that one, its answer to the key question was complicated. Here is how it was summed up:
To the question: "Is literature against us?", there can be no unqualified response. If we consider only the past, the answer is certainly yes. We have had a bad press. If we consider the present, the answer is mixed. There are signs of change, but the old stereotypes and false images still predominate. If we turn to the future, the answer is that the future in literature as in life is not predetermined but self-determined. As we shape our lives, singly and collectively, so will we shape our literature.
The full text follows: BLINDNESS: IS LITERATURE AGAINST US
Kenneth Jernigan's more or less extra-curricular talents as a scholar of history and a critic of culture notably displayed in the successive banquet speeches dealing with blindness in history and in literature became increasingly familiar to Federationists and other readers of the Braille Monitor during the seventies through the publication of a number of informal essays addressed not to the day-to-day problems of the movement but to more theoretical, and occasionally playful, matters of thought and learning. One such essay, which appeared in the Braille Monitor in 1973, was entitled "A Left-Handed Dissertation." Its satirical use of analogy served the purpose of underlining the status of the blind as a minority group, subject to much the same differential treatment and suspicious regard as other minorities. The analogy of blindness with left-handedness was on the order of a parable or cautionary fable, pointing a moral which did not lose its cogency with the passing of the years.
The 1975 convention of the National Federation of the Blind was again held in Chicago, where the 1972 and 1974 conventions had been so dynamic and successful. The mood of the delegates was confident, enthusiastic, and upbeat as President Jernigan reflected that mood in his banquet address, "Blindness: Is the Public Against Us."
Despite the exclusions and denials, he said, we are better off now than we have ever been. It is not that conditions are worse today than they were ten or twenty years ago, but only that we are more aware of them. In the past we wouldn't have known of their existence, and even if we had, we wouldn't have been able to do anything about it. Today we are organized, and actively in the field. The sound in the land is the march of the blind to freedom. The song is a song of gladness.
The situation of the blind, Jernigan said, had to be viewed in perspective and the behavior of the blind must be flexible enough to meet the need. We must use both love and a club, he said, and we must have sense enough to know when to do which long on compassion, short on hatred; and, above all, not using our philosophy as a cop out for cowardice or inaction or rationalization.
As to the question posed in the title of his speech, Jernigan gave a resounding answer of affirmation and buoyant belief in the future. The public is not against us, he said. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it.
This address received a great deal of attention from the media throughout the nation and led to an invitation to Jernigan to speak at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington. The luncheon occurred shortly after the convention, and Jernigan's Press Club speech (which was a variant of the banquet address) was carried nationwide on National Public Radio. The complete text of the banquet address follows: BLINDNESS: IS THE PUBLIC AGAINST US
When the delegates assembled in Los Angeles for the 1976 National Federation of the Blind convention, they had much to celebrate. Andrew Adams, the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, had responded affirmatively to their request that federal funds no longer be used to support the regressive National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped (NAC); the Federation's radio and television announcements were blanketing the nation; all fifty states and the District of Columbia were now represented in the organization; and Federation influence and prestige had never been greater. It was in this context and setting that the Federation's President delivered one of his most stirring banquet addresses, "Blindness: Of Visions and Vultures."
He began with a parable concerning a vulture sitting in the branches of a dead tree, and there were many in the audience who thought it referred to some of the more custodial agencies in the blindness system. Repeatedly during the speech President Jernigan returned to a central theme. We know who we are, he said, and we will never go back. The vulture sits in the branches of a dead tree, and we see where the wings join the body.
Again in 1976 (as he had done in 1975) Jernigan sounded a note of optimism and hope. It is not, he said, that our situation is worse or our problems greater today than in former times. Far from it. It is only that we have become aware and that our level of expectation has risen. In other days we would hardly have noticed, and even if we had, we would not have been organized to communicate or prepared to resist. We have it better now than we have ever had it before, and tomorrow is bright with promise.
The text of the 1976 banquet address follows: BLINDNESS: OF VISIONS AND VULTURES
The termination of the nine-year tenure in office which would come to be known as the First Jernigan Presidency came with shocking abruptness in New Orleans in 1977 through the unexpected resignation of the movement's leader for reasons of health. Jernigan's resignation, announced at the end of his annual presidential report to the National Convention, left the delegates no choice but to agree on a successor to the highest office. They selected the Federation's Second Vice President, Ralph Sanders, to fill the vacancy; but, as the Braille Monitor was to report, the voting was unenthusiastic and reluctant. Here is part of what the Monitor had to say about the event:
When President Jernigan announced his resignation at the conclusion of the first day of the convention, the room was filled with cries of No! expressing the unwillingness of Federationists to hear and accept what was being said. As President Jernigan went on to say that were his health to improve he might one day again seek the presidency, he was interrupted once more, this time by a prolonged and tumultuous ovation. This was the first of many outpourings of the intense affection and loyalty to this man felt by the members of the Federation. Both responses recalled the events of a decade earlier when the movement lost the leadership of another giant in the affairs of the blind.
Thus ended the period of unparalleled peace and prosperity within the organized blind movement a period already coming to be known as the democratic decade which had begun with the arrival of Kenneth Jernigan in the presidency and was closing with his unsought and unwanted departure. There was one thing more for him to do before he took his leave: to rise before the largest banquet audience in Federation history (well over 1,700) and deliver what was then regarded as his valedictory address. He made the most of the occasion, as everyone there knew he would taking as his text the Biblical passage which proclaims "To everything there is a season". President Jernigan began by observing: There was a time for me to be President of this organization. That time is no more. A new President now comes to the stage; a new era now begins in the movement.
He went on: What, then, (at this final banquet on this last night of my presidency) shall I say to you what that we have not already jointly discussed and collectively experienced during the past quarter of a century? In articles and speeches, in public pronouncements, and in literally thousands of letters I have set forth my beliefs and declared my faith in the capacity of the blind and the need for collective action.
As President of the Federation, I have always tried to see our movement in broad context attempting to ease the losses and temper the victories with a sense of perspective. So, on this night, let us talk of history and look to the future assessing where we are by where we have been and where we are going.
The attentive audiences at convention banquets through the democratic decade had often been touched by the eloquence of their President; but on this warm New Orleans evening, sharing an historic moment and dreading its inevitable end, they were moved as rarely before on these significant annual occasions. For they knew, every man and woman in the throng of Federationists, that they were not just talking of history here with their leader and mentor they were making it. This is the speech they heard: TO EVERY THING THERE IS A SEASON