[Ct-nfb] NFB Pledge

president at nfbct.org president at nfbct.org
Sun Jan 7 15:13:24 UTC 2018

  Origins of the NFB Pledge by Anna Kresmer
 From the Editor: Anna Kresmer is  one of the most valuable resources we have in the Jacobus tenBroek Library. She  understands our history, embraces our philosophy, and can answer almost any  question asked of her. She can offer her opinion and then back it up with one  or more documents. After almost a decade at her work, she was surprised when  she had what appeared to be a simple question that sent her back to the stacks  to answer. Here is what she says: 
 After  nine years working with the archives of the National Federation of the Blind,  it is not often these days that a reference question about Federation history  truly stumps me. But this is exactly what happened recently. I received a  request from a member in our Massachusetts affiliate which asked how the pledge  that Federationists recite at every chapter meeting, state convention, and  national convention was originally created. Like the member, I could not find  any reference to the adoption of the pledge online in our literature or  publications, including our recent seventy-fifth anniversary history book.  However, when I still could not find reference to the pledge in both the  Jacobus tenBroek Collection and the NFB Institutional Records, I knew it was  time to consult with a real expert on the subject of NFB history. I speak, of  course, of none other than Dr. Marc Maurer. Needless to say, he put me on the  right path immediately.
 The  pledge that we all know and use today came about during the 1974 NFB National  Convention in Chicago. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan first spoke about the idea of a  formal pledge to show one's support for the organization during his  Presidential Report. In those days, the report was delivered in a more  off-the-cuff manner using only notes, but thankfully it was transcribed and  later printed in full in the September 1974 Braille  Monitor. Here is how Dr. Jernigan addressed the Convention:
  Ever since 1971, we've been on a  sharply ascending curve organizationally-in power, in prestige, and, I think,  in responsibility. We must exercise with care the very considerable power  inherent in an organization as large and as broadly representative as we are.  We must also, however, recognize that there are dangers any time a group makes  as many waves as we have; we can expect to be subjects of vicious  counter-attacks. Now, I think that it is in that context that we must view our  situation. During the American Revolution, you know, the leaders said: "We  pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Well, in retrospect  that sounds like rhetoric. But think about it; it wasn't just rhetoric. It  meant what it said… If you take us as a group, blind people in this country, we  have pledged our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor-because although  they are not going to come out and kill us in the usual sense of that word,  life is going to be a different kind of life, and for some blind persons, not  really worth the living if this movement does not succeed. And furthermore,  [applause] as to fortune, although some of us as individuals may do well  financially, the blind as a class can expect very little except the same old  custody and care, shelter and pity, and contempt which we have always received  if we don't succeed in this movement. And as to our honors, already there are  people who try to make us appear to be less than human by what they've said and  done and how they felt… it is my duty not to hesitate, not to count the cost  personally, it is my duty to lead where I ought to lead, stand out on the  cutting edge and be willing to take the risk and not count what it may do to me  as a person, even if it costs me my job, if it costs my reputation, costs  whatever money I have- whatever it costs, it is for me to be prepared to give  it. Otherwise I am not fit to lead the movement. But, it is up to you as  members to do all you can to make that job successful. It is up to you as  members of this movement to be willing to give as much as you can in the way of  your time, your effort, your money, your dedication, and your commitment. If  you are not willing to do that, you are not fit to be members of the movement.  [Applause] In other words, those who believe that the primary purpose of this  movement is a nice little game, or a social tete-a-tete, would do better to go  elsewhere; they will find it more fun. But those of us who intend to see this  thing through and to make lives better for blind people in this country and to  improve our own status in the world will stay to the end and we will prevail.
  That year Dr. Jernigan also hosted a  special presidential reception during the convention with a receiving line  that, according to the Braille Monitor, “included not only President and Mrs. Kenneth Jernigan, but all present,  incoming, and outgoing officers and their respective spouses of the whole board  of directors; NFB staff members; and the top officers of the Illinois Federation  of the Blind.” Each member who walked through that receiving line received an  official NFB membership card, which, when signed, certified that that person  was a member in good standing of the National Federation of the Blind. On the  back of these membership cards were the words, printed for the first time,  which every Federationist today knows:
 I pledge to participate actively in the  efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality,  opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs  of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.
 Gary Allen
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