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After the Miracle: The Political Crusades of Helen Keller

Reviewed by Gary Wunder

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 65, Number 5, May 2023

After the Miracle: The Political Crusades of Helen Keller
by Max Wallace
Grand Central Publishing, hardcover, 416 pages, https://www.grandcentralpublishing.com/titles/max-wallace/after-the-miracle/9781668620915/
ISBN: 9781538707685
Available on Kindle, audible.com, and Bookshare.org

In June of 2018, readers of the Braille Monitor were treated to an excellent article by Kane Brolin. He wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Helen Keller, and his message was the first that many of us had seen suggesting that she was more than the result of a miracle worker. She was a highly articulate human being who managed to be present on the world stage, though she had no memory of hearing or vision. Recently I was asked if the Braille Monitor would be interested in reviewing a new book, After the Miracle by Max Wallace. I recommend the book for anyone who believes that blind people should live the lives we want.

Mr. Wallace emphasizes that too many people have been happy to view Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller as the miracle worker and the recipient of the miracle. This is not a book one reads to be comforted by the oft-repeated portrayals of Helen Keller's miraculous achievements. The author reveals that some of her expressed beliefs were, and still are, controversial. At various points in her life Keller embraced Communism, eugenics, woman suffrage, and Socialism.

Helen Keller was highly critical of the way black people were treated, both here and abroad. She was an outspoken critic of the beliefs, held in her native south and in the north as well, that black people were inherently inferior and unequal. Today most of us see what she had to say as a basic truth. We might assume that this truth has always been obvious, though many chose to ignore it. But the south, and particularly her home state of Alabama, soon became a place Keller seldom dared to visit. This was something of a good thing for Keller's relatives, who felt it necessary to separate themselves from her views, whether that separation was based on conscience and observation or simply on not wanting to spoil the nests in which they lived.

One of Keller's more controversial views was that war was usually motivated and fought based on economic interests rather than moral values. She admired those who fought and even appreciated the need to fight if the issue demanded it, but she did not support our entry into any war that happened in her lifetime.
Keller's livelihood depended on being gracious to rich people and soliciting their donations. However, the reality she saw made her believe there was too great a distance between rich and poor and too little opportunity for real education for the deaf and the blind. She concluded that poverty might be a more important factor in life than any specific disability.

The American Foundation for the Blind often uses Helen Keller in its advertising. It celebrates her fame and takes credit for many of her worldwide travels. This book argues that, for all the compensation Helen received from the Foundation, the Foundation was by far the greater beneficiary of funding and publicity as a result of that association. It also argues strongly that the AFB sought to downplay and even suppress the publication of Helen's views on war, the economy, civil rights, apartheid, and a number of other issues that the Foundation feared would interfere with its fundraising and its work on behalf of the blind. Wallace refers to conversations in which the Foundation discussed severing its relationship with Ms. Keller and parts of letters in which they went to great pains to assure prized donors that their donations would not go to causes to which the donors objected.

Wallace sadly observes that one of the distressing aspects of coverage frequently given to Keller is that some of her controversial views were dismissed by friends and foes as the consequence of her disabilities. People assumed that, no matter how respected she was or accomplished she seemed, she could never fully grasp the complexity of the world. People often assumed she had been duped into her controversial opinions by those who should have served her better. Many were convinced that a certain innocence and naiveté are intrinsic to the lives of disabled people and especially to a woman with multiple disabilities. I find this explaining away of Keller's views particularly deplorable, considering similar experiences I have had with my own parents and siblings. At times they have argued I cannot have a balanced view of issues around race because I cannot "see the way they behave." If I could, they assume that my views would be far closer to their own. Blindness is the issue, not the breadth of my life experience and reflection.

Whether you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with Keller's views, this is a fascinating and enlightening book. The quotations that appear portray Keller as someone who was observant and introspective. She was not afraid to challenge the views of those around her, even when she and Annie Sullivan suffered financial consequences. Certainly there is some wisdom in the quotation, "Whose bread I eat, his song I sing." Helen Keller did her best to live beyond the miracle and to show that she was more than the walking, talking embodiment of innocence, seeking light for the blind and sound for the deaf.

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