A standing-room-only crowd of 1,000 gathered at Alumnae Memorial Hall (1907-1965) on the campus of Salem Academy and College. The school, responsible for Keller’s visit to the city, declared Monday, Oct. 6, as “Helen Keller Day.” The senior class of the academy sat in chairs on the stage with Keller. She was accompanied, of course, by Anne Sullivan Macy, then married, who interpreted for her. Sullivan was later heralded as “the miracle worker” in a 1959 play and a 1962 movie by that name.
Keller and Sullivan had been greeted at the train station that day by Winston-Salem luminaries Lindsay and Lucy Patterson, for whom Patterson Avenue was later named. They joined Keller on the stage along with the school’s president, Howard E. Rondthaler, who introduced the celebrated woman. Keller declared, “I can feel the presence of my audience by the density of the atmosphere.” She knew their applause, she said, as vibrations sensed through her feet.
Keller delivered her “world famous lecture, ‘The Heart and the Hand,’” reported the Twin City Daily Sentinel. Sullivan spoke first, sharing the story of her challenges and successes of her undertaking. “For the deaf child, the difficulty of learning to speak is increased a thousand-fold; but the difficulty of teaching a deaf-blind child is immeasurable. … But Helen insisted that she be taught the use of her tongue, saying ‘The good soldier does not own defeat until the battle is over.’” And so, after ample prelude, Helen Keller was led to the center of the stage. “She began talking amid an impressive silence,” the Sentinel reported. “A pin dropped in the farthermost corner of the hall might have been heard, so rapt was the attention of her audience.” Keller shared in part, “We are successful so far as we help each other. My teacher has given me an opportunity to live and work and that is what people with five senses should give each other. We ought to make people happy. Every human has an equal opportunity for education and service and happiness. We are not born as the preamble for the Constitution says, but we do have a chance to help our fellow man.”
Helen Keller was a great thinker and activist. She flirted for a time with socialism as a philosophy she thought better for serving the mass of mankind, but she was more prominently a great defender of the promises of the U.S. Constitution. She championed freedom of expression, equality before the law and due process for all. In that pursuit, she helped found the American Civil Liberties Union. Fulfilling her own credo for helping, Helen Keller spent her life in service to others, raising money for the National Federation for the Blind. In 1964, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson for her inspiration and encouragement.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to acknowledge that each person has different abilities, that what people can do is more important than what they cannot do. Helen Keller came here a century ago. “The good soldier” would be pleased to know that today the Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind is one of the nation’s leading employers of blind and visually-impaired persons. With heart, Winston-Salem puts hands to work.