The Braille Monitor                                                                                January/February 2002

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Plaque Now Marks Federation's Birthplace

NFB of Pennsylvania President Jin Antonacci talks with Wilkes-Barre mayor Thomas McGroarty in front of a TV news camera
NFB of Pennsylvania President Jim Antonacci talks with Wilkes-Barre mayor Thomas McGroarty in front of a TV news camera.

by Jim Antonacci

From the Editor: Jim Antonacci serves as President of theNational Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. On Friday, November 9, 2001, just before the start of the Pennsylvania affiliate's annual convention, a group gathered outside the Best Western Genetti Hotel and Conference Center in Wilkes-Barre for the unveiling of a bronze plaque acknowledging the site of the founding of the National Federation of the Blind. Jim Antonacci reports on the event:

Friday morning, November 9, fifty or so Federationists, joined city dignitaries from Wilkes-Barre and hotel representatives for the unveiling of a bronze plaque marking the spot where on November 16, 1940, a handful of blind men and women from seven states around the country gathered to establish the National Federation of the Blind. Thomas McGroarty, Mayor of the City of Wilkes‑Barre, welcomed the group and acknowledged the city's gratification at being the birthplace of the National Federation of the Blind.

The President of the county historical association and President Maurer both accepted copies of our organizational history, Walking Alone and Marching Together which had been signed by the current presidents of the seven founding states as well as by its author, Dr. Floyd Matson, and President Maurer. We are working with the historical association to establish an ongoing display about Braille and the National Federation of the Blind.

Left to right are Pat Maurer, President Maurer examining the plaque, and Jim Antonacci addressing the audience/
Left to right are Pat Maurer, President Maurer examining the plaque, and Jim Antonacci addressing the audience.

Following Dr. Maurer's remarks, he and I unveiled the bronze plaque, which had already been mounted at the North Pennsylvania Street entrance of the complex, which gets most of the visitor traffic and which is also the closest point in the current structure to where the original Redington Hotel stood. The words, "Birthplace of the National Federation of the Blind, November 1940," appear on the face of the plaque in both print and Braille. The media were present to mark the occasion as they did in November of 1940. Fred Leader, President of the Capital Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania, unearthed two articles that took note of the convention of the Pennsylvania organization and the arrival of visitors from across the country to form the national group.

The first article says that the meetings were to take place in another hotel of the time; we have no idea why the discrepancy should have occurred. But we have checked with Hazel tenBroek, who after all should know, and she assures us that the place of the organizing meeting on Saturday evening, November 16, 1940, was indeed the Redington Hotel. Here are the two articles that appeared locally. The first and longer piece was published in the Wilkes‑Barre Record of Saturday, November 16, 1940. The second article first appeared in the Wilkes‑Barre Times Leader of Thursday, November 14, 1940.

Blind to Form National Group

Seven States Represented at Session

Look to Pennsylvania for Leadership

The distinction of being the founding site of National Federation of the Blind came to Wilkes‑Barre last night when delegates to the fifth annual convention of Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind, meeting in Hotel Sterling, were told that formal action on the founding would take place today.

Mrs. Evelyn Burlingame of Columbia, Pennsylvania, secretary‑treasurer of the Pennsylvania Federation, said the blind in other states looked to Pennsylvania to take this action because the Keystone State has the largest group of organized "blind in the world." She said the state organization has 3,400 members.

Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, blind instructor of law at University of Chicago, spoke for the blind of California. The professor is a native of that state. He set forth many ideas for the creation of the national federation.

The crowd gathered at the plaque site as seen from across the street.
The crowd gathered at the plaque site as seen from across the street.

Blind of Minnesota were represented by F. W. Hall, president of United Blind Committee of Minnesota.

Mrs. H. M. Arndt of United Blind Association of Wisconsin came as representative of the blind persons of that state.

Miss Mary McCann and Edward Collins, representing the Central Committee of Chicago, presented the proposals of Illinois blind for a national group.

Missouri representatives were Marlow Howell and Ellis Froshes, directors of the Board of Blind Missouri.

Representing Ohio's blind was Glen Hoffman.

Russell Weber, blind field representative for WPA spoke on "Advancement of Blind." Herbert Rummell, DPA representative, explained that department's contacts with blind persons needing assistance.

Guest speakers at the convention dinner were Senators Robert Miller and Leo C. Mundy.

Presiding at the dinner was Robert Brown of Johnstown.

Two outstanding blind personalities largely responsible for the formation of the national body are Mrs. Burlingame and her husband, Gayle Burlingame, who is editor of "We, the Blind."

Mr. Burlingame and his wife have been given the credit for the most outstanding work in the interest of Pennsylvania's blind. They worked for and succeeded in getting the law that sets a pension for the blind.

Convention business sessions will open this morning at 9:30, and elections of officers will take place this afternoon at 4.

Formal action on the forming of the National Federation of the Blind will take place tonight at 8, when delegates from other states meet with executive officers of the Pennsylvania Federation.

Blind Group to Meet Here for Two Days

Session of Pennsylvania Federation to Be Held

at Redington on Friday and Saturday

The Pennsylvania Federation for the Blind, which is responsible for the pensions for the blind being retained in its present form, will hold its fifth annual convention at Hotel Redington on Friday and Saturday.

A number of prominent speakers, some from out of the state, are expected to address the gathering. It is expected that approximately 150 persons will attend and that the group will look toward a national organization for the blind. Luzerne Benevolent Society for the Blind, founded more than a decade ago, was largely instrumental in forming the State Federation.

A dinner at the Redington tomorrow night at 7:30, at which Robert Brown of Johnstown, state president, will preside, will open the session. Attorney William Taylor of Delaware County will deliver the address of welcome. Congressman Matthew Dunn of Allegheny County, who advocated the pension bill, is also expected to attend.


Among speakers will be Gail Burlingdale [undoubtedly Gayle Burlingame] of Columbia, editor of "We the Blind," and his wife, Evelyn Burlingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Pennsylvania Federation. These two have done more than any two other people in the state to improve conditions for the blind, including the establishment by law of a pension for the blind.

Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, blind professor of law at University of Chicago, representing the blind of California, will make the chief address Friday night. Other speakers will include Frank W. Hall of St. Paul, Minnesota, Miss Mary McCann, secretary of Central Committee of the Blind, Chicago, and Ella Forshee of St. Louis.

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