Lloyd Jernigan pictured with his sister-in-law Mary Ellen

Lloyd Jernigan and his sister-in-law Mary Ellen

My Brother, My Friend, My Hero

by Lloyd Jernigan


            From the Editor: Those who attend NFB conventions know and admire Lloyd Jernigan, Dr. Jernigan's older brother. Some months ago he wrote his own quiet tribute to his brother. Here it is:


            At the close of the century, historians and writers are busy choosing its heroes. The twentieth century certainly has had many to choose from. I recently read that the world has advanced more in the past fifty years than during the rest of history combined. Despite all the other worthy and heroic candidates, my vote for hero would go to my brother, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan.

            Kenneth Jernigan was born blind in Detroit, Michigan, in the year 1926. Our mother and father were sure that the doctor was responsible for his blindness. I do not believe that they ever tried to prove it, but that is what they believed. I remember our mother grieving and struggling each day, seeking information and help in raising a blind child, but no help came. She believed that Kenneth would live his life depending on someone else to care for and support him. Why did she believe that? Because in those days it was a sad fact that blind people had no chance for an independent, self-sufficient life. In one of the last conversations I had with our mother, she asked me to promise that I would take care of my brother. Thank God fulfilling that promise was never an issue.

            Kenneth Jernigan lived in Detroit until he was four years old and then moved with his parents and me to a farm in Tennessee. The farm was located in a remote area without electricity, running water, radio, or other conveniences as we know them today. The chances in those times and that environment of any child's becoming a world-famous person were remote; one would have thought them nonexistent for a blind child. Yet that is what happened.

            When Kenneth entered the school for the blind in Nashville, we soon learned that his strong will, determination, and intelligence were extraordinary. He earned high marks and honors from day one to the conclusion of his graduate studies. After college graduation he tried sales work, teaching, and other things but decided to join Dr. Jacobus tenBroek in California and teach students being rehabilitated in a residential program.

            This was the beginning of his life-long devotion to aiding his blind brothers and sisters. He was determined to change the attitudes, not only of blind people about their blindness, but also of sighted people about blindness. He believed that, before the blind could become full participants in society, they themselves had to believe that they could do so. He believed that sighted people must stop pitying the blind because what blind people really need is a chance to hold jobs and become full partners in society. He believed that the blind could compete with the sighted if given a chance, and as time went by, he proved the truth of his belief.

            His teachings about blindness and his advocacy of constructive legislation helped change the lives of blind people around the world. They not only changed the attitudes of the blind, they also changed the way that sighted people think about and act toward blind people. How do I know this for a fact? Because I am one of those sighted persons whose attitudes will never be the same. Let the record show that Dr. Kenneth Jernigan is most certainly a hero of this century.