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The Kenneth Jernigan Collection

Identifier: 02-C2012.1

Scope and Contents

The Kenneth Jernigan Collection covers the years 1935 to 1998, with the majority of the collection dating from 1954 to 1986.  The collection documents his personal and professional life, with particular focus on his tenure as director for the Iowa Commission for the Blind (ICB) and his membership on the Iowa Wine Advisory Board. Portions of the collection also deal with Jernigan’s family history, his college education, and his honorary degrees for his work with the organized blind movement. Only a small portion of the collection pertains to his life before and after his residence in Des Moines, Iowa. Additionally, the collection does not include the majority of existing files pertaining to his work with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) or his role as its president from 1968-1986. For information on records related to Jernigan and the NFB, please consult the finding aid for the National Federation of the Blind Institutional Records (NFBIR). Materials include print and Braille correspondence, news clippings, reports, programs, diplomas, meeting minutes, photos, printed matter, ephemera, audio recordings, and one scrapbook. Unless otherwise noted, most correspondence and news clippings are arranged in reverse chronological order. Most original news clippings have been photocopied and replaced with access copies on acid-free paper. Braille materials are generally accompanied by printed file information sheets for identification purposes. In rare cases, Braille correspondence was transcribed into print and the originals were discarded. Jernigan’s interest in his family genealogy is reflected in records and documents published by family members, including his brother, Lloyd Jernigan, which date from 1971 to 1997.  Early examples of poetry and prose written by Jernigan in the 1940s are included in the records of his college education. However, the collection does not contain drafts or published copies of his numerous articles and speeches, most of which were printed in the Braille Monitor, the newsletter of the NFB. Archived issues of the Braille Monitor are available on the NFB Web site ( and at the Internet Archive ( The correspondence files span the years 1954 to 1996 and deal mainly with Jernigan’s personal activities while in Des Moines, Iowa, and Baltimore, Maryland. They include personal correspondence with family, friends, informal acquaintances, and formal correspondence with people who were not connected to his professional career or his involvement with organizations of or for the blind. The subject content in some letters may overlap with his work at the ICB or his advocacy work for various organizations of the blind. However, this is only a small portion of the collection. Correspondence related to Jernigan’s involvement in the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the World Blind Union, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, or the Friends of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of North America are not included in this collection, but can be found in the NFBIR. The NFBIR should also be consulted for evidence of Jernigan’s appointment to and involvement in federal committees focused on the needs of the blind and disabled. Though mainly concerned with the rights and needs of the blind, this collection also documents Jernigan’s interest in other causes and his involvement in organizations unrelated to the blindness community. This includes the Iowa Wine Advisory Board, to which Jernigan was appointed by the Iowa Liquor Control Commission in 1970. Materials related to this organization include correspondence, news clippings, and reports. Jernigan’s work at the ICB from 1958-1978 is represented by correspondence, meeting minutes, and publicity files created in his capacity as administrator and director, with some materials dating before or after his employment. The bulk of materials related to the ICB concern the management and oversight of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School (IBSSS) from 1940 to 1986, including its interactions with the ICB. Includes reports on a proposed merger of the IBSSS and the Iowa School for the Deaf in 1986. A small portion of the collection contains files related to the Iowa Association of the Blind, 1965-1974, which was an affiliate of the NFB. Some records pertain to the Iowa Advisory Committee for the Blind, 1955-1964, which was made up of members of the ICB, the Iowa Association of the Blind, and the IBSSS who were charged by the state government to coordinate resources for the blind in Iowa. For the most part, these records do not pertain to the day-to-day running of the ICB, the activities of its other employees, or the case files of its clients. Some related materials in the form of correspondence and board meeting minutes can be found in the National Federation of the Blind Institutional Records. Jernigan’s tenure at the ICB, his work with the NFB, and his personal accomplishments are also represented in publicity files containing news clippings and articles which were written about and collected by him. Aspects of his childhood and family life are also preserved in scrapbooks and photo albums, which were annotated by family members.


  • Created: 1935-1998
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1954-1986


Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Jacobus tenBroek Library. Consult the Archives staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Jacobus tenBroek Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Archives staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Jacobus tenBroek Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.

Biographical or Historical Information

Kenneth Jernigan (1926-1998) was a longtime leader in the organized blind movement. He served as President of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) from 1968-1986, and remained an active leader in the organization until his death. Under his administration Jernigan guided the organization through one of its most impressive periods of growth, leading to the establishment of affiliates in all fifty states, as well as in the District of Columbia. He left a lasting impression not only on the members of the NFB, but on the way that blindness is viewed by the general public and how programs for the blind are managed in the United States.

Blind from birth, Jernigan’s work as a teacher, writer, administrator, and advocate had a direct impact on the lives of blind people in the United States and around the world. During his tenure as director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind (1958-1978), he created a training program for the blind based on NFB philosophy. His model is still endorsed by the NFB and has been replicated in public and private agencies for the blind throughout the U.S. His emphasis on training, job placement, and above all a positive attitude towards blindness are all hallmarks of what has been referred to as the “Iowa Experiment.”

The recipient of many awards, including four honorary doctorates and two presidential citations, Jernigan actively participated in a large number of organizations and governmental bodies concerned with the needs and rights of blind people. Among his other achievements, Jernigan was responsible for the establishment of the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore, MD, in 1978, known today as the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.


  • 1926, Nov. 13 Born, Detroit, MI.
  • 1926 Family relocated to Beech Grove, TN.
  • 1933-1945 Student, Tennessee School for the Blind, Nashville, TN.
  • 1944 Handcrafted and sold wooden furniture, Beech Grove, TN.
  • 1945 Toured several states as a professional wrestler (summer).
  • 1948 B.S. Social Science, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, TN.
  • Elected, Who’s Who Among Students in Colleges and Universities of America.
  • 1949 M.A. English, Peabody College, Nashville, TN.
  • Captain Charles W. Browne Award, American Foundation for the Blind.
  • 1949-1951 Post-graduate work, Peabody College, Nashville, TN.
  • 1949-1953 High school English teacher, Tennessee School for the Blind, Nashville, TN.
  • 1950 First Vice President, Tennessee Association of the Blind, at that time the state affiliate of the NFB.
  • 1951-1953 President, Tennessee Association of the Blind.
  • 1952 Planned the annual convention of the NFB held that year in Nashville, TN.
  • 1952-1960 Member, Board of Directors, NFB.
  • 1953-1958 Faculty, California Orientation Center for the Blind, Oakland, CA.
  • 1956-1958 President, Alameda County Club of Adult Blind, California Council of the Blind (now NFB of California).
  • 1958 Elected Second Vice President, NFB.
  • Elevated to First Vice President to fill a vacancy, NFB.
  • 1958-1978 Director, Iowa Commission for the Blind.
  • 1959 Elected First Vice President, NFB.
  • 1960 Newel Perry Award, NFB.
  • Editor, Braille Monitor, NFB (September-December).
  • Resigns from all offices in the NFB because of increasing responsibilities at the Iowa Commission for the Blind and the upheaval during the period known as the NFB’s “Civil War.”
  • 1962-1968 Re-elected First Vice President, NFB.
  • 1962-1986 Member, Board of Directors, NFB.
  • 1967 Francis Joseph Campbell Award, American Library Association.
  • 1968 Presidential Citation, President of the United States of America, Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Harold Russell, President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, said that "If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than in any other place in the nation, or the world!"
  • Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • 1968-1977 President, NFB.
  • 1970-1972 Member, Iowa Wine Advisory Board (appointed by Iowa Liquor Control Commission).
  • 1972 Member, National Advisory Committee on Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed by Elliot Richardson, United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare).
  • 1974 Honorary Doctor of Law (LL.D.), Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ.
  • 1975 Special consultant on services for the blind, United States Rehabilitation Services Administration.
  • Advisor on museum programs for blind visitors, Smithsonian Institution.
  • Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Drake University, Des Moines, IA.
  • Distinguished Alumni Award, Tennessee Technological University.
  • Address before the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., broadcast live throughout the nation on National Public Radio.
  • 1976 Special consultant to Executive Director of the White House Conference on the Handicapped.
  • 1977 Special advisor, White House Conference on Library and Information Services (appointed by President Gerald Ford).
  • Steps down as President of the NFB for health reasons.
  • 1978 Relocated headquarters of the NFB from Des Moines, IA, to Baltimore, MD.
  • 1978-1986 Re-elected President, NFB.
  • 1978-1989 Executive Director, American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults).
  • Director, National Center for the Blind, Baltimore, MD.
  • 1979-1993 Editor, Braille Monitor, NFB.
  • 1986-1998 President Emeritus, NFB.
  • 1987-1997 President, World Blind Union, North America/Caribbean Region.
  • 1989 Delivered 60th anniversary commencement address, Tennessee Technological University.
  • 1990 Presidential Citation, President of the United States of America, George H. W. Bush.
  • 1991 American Brotherhood for the Blind Library renamed the Kenneth Jernigan Library for Blind Children, Tarzana, CA.
  • 1991-1998 Editor, Kernel Books, NFB.
  • 1992-1997 President, Friends of Libraries for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of North America.
  • 1996 Keynote speaker, 4th quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union.
  • 1997 Keynote speaker, Annual Meeting of the International Council for the Education of the Visually Impaired.
  • Honorary Doctor of Public Service, MacMurray College, Jacksonville, IL.
  • 1998 Lifetime Achievement Award, National Council of State Agencies for the Blind.
  • International Leadership Award, American Foundation for the Blind.
  • Winston Gordon Award, Canadian National Institute for the Blind.
  • 1998, Oct. 12 Died, Baltimore, MD.
  • 2002 Inductee, Hall of Fame: Leaders and Legends of the Blindness Field, American Printing House for the Blind.
  • 2004, Jan. 30 Grand opening of the Jernigan Institute, NFB, Baltimore, MD.

  • Note written by Anna Kresmer


    6.58 Linear Feet

    4 archival cartons, 2 Hollinger boxes, 5 custom boxes, and 1 oversized folder other_unmapped

    Language of Materials



    Correspondence in print and Braille, news clippings, printed matter, photographs, scrapbooks, and magnetic tape audio recordings related to the personal and professional life of Kenneth Jernigan, president of the National Federation of the Blind, director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind (ICB), executive director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind, teacher, administrator, and advocate for the blind. The collection also documents his interactions as director of the ICB with the administrators of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, as well as his membership on the Iowa Wine Advisory Board.

    Arrangement Note

    Newspaper clippings and correspondence in both print and Braille have been arranged in reverse chronological order from newest to oldest. Unless otherwise noted, all other dated materials are arranged in chronological order from oldest to newest. Photographs albums, scrapbooks, and oversized materials have been placed in separate housing, unless otherwise noted in the series descriptions. The collection is organized into 6 series and 1 subseries:

  • Series 1: Family Genealogy, 1971-1997
  • Series 2: Education, 1946-1997
  • Series 3: Correspondence, 1954-1996
  • Series 4: Iowa Wine Advisory Board, 1966-1985, 1996
  • Series 5: Iowa Commission for the Blind, 1940-1986
  • Subseries 1: Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, 1940-1986
  • Series 6: Miscellaneous, 1935-1998
  • Physical Access Requirements

    Some materials are written in contracted Braille and do not have print equivalents. A Braille reader will be required for access. Please contact Archives staff for assistance.

    Technical Access Requirements

    The collection includes two open reel magnetic tape audio recordings on 6 mm tape (¼”), which require the use of a player.

    Custodial History

    A portion of the collection was stored by Kenneth Jernigan in the National Federation of the Blind Institutional Records during Jernigan’s work with the organization before being transferred to this collection in August of 2012. Records created by Kenneth Jernigan during his time at the Iowa Commission for the Blind (ICB) and relating to interactions between the ICB and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School were donated to Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), in August of 2008 by the Iowa Department for the Blind in Des Moines, Iowa. Additional materials concerning Jernigan’s family and personal life were transferred to the Jacobus tenBroek Library by his widow, Mary Ellen Jernigan, circa 2005, including some materials from his second wife, Anna Katherine Jernigan.

    Related Materials

    For related materials held by the Jacobus tenBroek Library concerning the life and work of Kenneth Jernigan, both inside and outside his activities with the NFB, please consult the finding aid for the National Federation of the Blind Institutional Records, 1940-2011, undated. Additionally, materials on Jernigan’s early involvement with the NFB can be found in the papers of NFB founder, Jacobus tenBroek. For more information, please consult the finding aid for the Jacobus tenBroek Personal Papers, 1924-1997 (bulk 1938-1978).

    Other Descriptive Information

    Some correspondence is in contracted Braille.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Anna Kresmer, August 2012

    Archon Finding Aid Title
    Anna Kresmer
    Description rules
    Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    Language of description
    Script of description
    Code for undetermined script
    Language of description note

    Repository Details

    Part of the Jacobus tenBroek Library, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute Repository

    200 East Wells Street
    at Jernigan Place
    Baltimore MD 21230 US
    (410) 659-9314