Braille Monitor                                                 January 2011

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Jacobus tenBroek and Kenneth Jernigan:
The Letter That Started it All

A bust of Jacobus tenBroek stands in front of Kenneth Jernigan making a speech at the podium during the 1969 national convention in Columbia, South Carolina.From the Editor: Here is another in our series of historical letters in the Jacobus tenBroek Library:

In this letter twenty-four-year-old Kenneth Jernigan introduces himself to the man he would eventually succeed as NFB president. Although already displaying the energy and leadership qualities that continue to inspire the blind of America, Kenneth Jernigan was not yet the clear and incisive writer we know from his mature writings. What we can see in this letter is his growing devotion to the work of the NFB, his admiration for Jacobus tenBroek, and his instinct for diplomacy. As you read the following letter, remember that in later years Dr. Jernigan was fond of recalling that he decided not to attend the 1951 convention and instead to send the woman whom he had defeated in the election for affiliate president. While there she volunteered to have Tennessee host the convention the following year. Here is the Jernigan letter to President tenBroek:

2108 Ashwood Avenue
Nashville, Tennessee
July 2, 1951

Dr. Jacobus tenBroek
2652 Shasta Road
Berkley 8, California

Dear Dr. tenBroek:

Allow me, even though somewhat belatedly, to introduce myself to you as the new president of the Tennessee Association for the Blind. Almost up to convention time I had planned to come to Oklahoma City as Tennessee's delegate to the national convention and meet you face to face; so I did not write, feeling that personal introductions are always more satisfactory than those achieved by letter. At the last minute, however, unavoidable circumstances prevented me from attending the convention, and so here at last is the letter.

To tell you a little about myself, I attended the school for the blind in Nashville; did undergraduate work at the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute in Cookeville, Tennessee, majoring in English and the social sciences; received my master's degree in English from George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville; did additional graduate work there; and now lack three quarters on my doctor’s degree in English. For the past two years I have taught high school English at the Tennessee School for the Blind, and my plans are to return there in the fall. I write poetry and short stories, did a little semi professional wrestling at one time, and build furniture. On April twentieth of this year I was married to a very lovely young lady, who is therapeutic dietitian at the General Hospital in Nashville. Last year I was first vice president of the Tennessee Association for the Blind, and this year I was elected to its presidency.

Now to leave the personal and to come to official business, first let me say that we in Tennessee consider it an honor that the national convention is coming to our state. Mrs. Bertha Wells has turned the letter which you wrote her over to me, and it will be very helpful to me in making preliminary arrangements. Even before I saw your letter, however, I had already begun to set up the necessary organizational machinery to get things in motion. Hotels are now being investigated, and I should be able to give you a report as to what is available in no less than two weeks time. As to prominent people for the banquet, I hope and I believe that we will be able to do well. When I went to see the governor concerning his letter of invitation to the National Federation, he seemed most cordial. I talked with him at length, as I have done on other occasions, and I am sure that he will attend. The same is true with the mayor of Nashville; he seemed very friendly to our organization and will be happy to attend at least some of the meetings. I know two college presidents in the state personally and feel sure that I can rely on their cooperation. Arrangements are now being made for contacting United States senators and representatives, and other prominent men in the state will be contacted and brought to the convention.

I have thought that it might be well for the Tennessee Association to sponsor a reception for the convention delegates on Sunday afternoon. There would be a receiving line consisting of national officers, state officers, and prominent guests--the governor, representatives, etc. Girls from a local sorority would be used to assist the delegates to maneuver through the receiving line and be served. The Tennessee Association would, of course, finance this reception; and my wife, who as I have already said is a dietitian, would help prepare the refreshments. Since I am somewhat unacquainted with the precedents of the national convention, I do not know how this idea will strike you; but, if there is no objection, the state association will carry forward plans for the reception.

You will doubtless have other suggestions and ideas to pass on to me, and let me assure you that I will do my best to carry out the wishes of the national association and to make this the best convention which has ever been held. Since I am president of the state association, I will be in full charge of all arrangements here. The full resources of our organization will be at your disposal, and I will do everything within my power to cooperate with you.

Sincerely yours,

Kenneth Jernigan
President of the
Tennessee Association
for the Blind


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