Kenneth Jernigan (1926-1998) grew up on a farm in central Tennessee. He graduated with honors from Tennessee Technological University in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in social science. In 1949 he received a master’s degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed additional graduate study. He received the Captain Charles W. Browne Award presented by the American Foundation for the Blind to the nation’s outstanding blind student. He was married to Mary Ellen who was also active in NFB activities.
Kenneth Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the Tennessee School for the Blind. In 1953 he was appointed to the faculty of the California Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played a major role in program development.
From 1958 until 1978, he served as Director of the Iowa State Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for administering state programs of rehabilitation, home teaching, home industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped. Under his dynamic and forceful leadership, he made many improvements in services to the blind of Iowa.
In 1978 Kenneth Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become Executive Director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind and Director of the National Center for the Blind. As President of the National Federation of the Blind, he led the organization through the most impressive period of growth in its history. The creation and development of the National Center for the Blind and the expansion of NFB’s influential voice and force in the affairs of the blind stand as the culmination of his lifework and a tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation.
Kenneth Jernigan has received too many honors and awards to enumerate individually, including honorary doctorates from three institutions of higher education. In 1960 the Federation presented him with its Newell Perry Award for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind. In 1968 and again in 1990 he was given a Special Citation and award by the President of the United States for distinguished service. He served as a special consultant to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies.
Kenneth Jernigan will be best remembered for his passionate and visionary leadership in the National Federation of the Blind for more than thirty-five years. He was President (with one brief interruption) from 1968 until July, 1986. The eloquent and articulate Kenneth Jernigan has touched countless lives both nationally and internationally through his writings and speeches on blindness. There has never been a more vocal or effective advocate for the blind.