A few miles from my house here in Franklin County, Tennessee, there is a roadside marker I’ve driven by a thousand times and never bothered to look at until recently. Entitled “The Blind Knight,” it reads as follows:
4-½ mi. S.E., near Liberty, Francis Joseph Campbell lived as a boy. Blinded in 1836, when 4 years old, he was educated in the first class of the State School for the Blind, later in Boston and Europe. Settling in England, his success in educating the blind and making them self-reliant earned him knighthood. He died in 1914.
Francis Joseph Campbell is the second person I know of from Franklin County to be knighted; the other is Sir John Templeton. Campbell’s achievements are worth mentioning more fully–from Tennessee, he went on to teach at the Wisconson School for the Blind, the Perkins Institute outside Boston, where he taught music. Some years later, Campbell moved to England, where he helped to found the Royal Normal College for the Blind in London (later the Royal National College), which focused on vocational as well as general education, and prided itself on its careful job placement program. A devout believer in physical education, Campbell was the first blind person to climb Mont Blanc, a feat he considered the crowning achievement of his life. In recognition of his services to the blind, Campbell was knighted by King Edward VII in 1909.
In addition to his work on behalf of the disabled, this native Southerner was a dedicated anti-slavery advocate. A letter he wrote in 1899 to Booker T. Washington, whom he had heard lecture in England, contains the following post-script:
I think it will interest you to know that I am a native of Tennessee, and lived there until 1856 when I was driven away, first because I taught coloured people to read, and next because I refused to vote for Buchanan; further, an anti-slavery paper was sent me from Boston, which was seized in the post office. In the first instance, I was to be hanged, but was afterwards ordered to leave and never return.
The “Blind Knight” was, evidently, a color-blind knight as well. Campbell relates elsewhere that the roots of his abolitionist position lay in a childhood memory pre-dating his loss of sight (from “Light in Darkness,” Good Words 23  p. 51):
One vivid recollection just before I became quite blind influenced my whole life. Wheat threshing was going on. I sat playing in the straw. Our old coloured nurse, Aunt Maria, Somehow got into disgrace. I heard the stern order, “Bring the cow hide!” I saw and shall never forget the instrument of torture, and poor aunt Maria kneeling before it, begging for mercy. I have been an abolitionist ever since, thank God!
Postscript, August 2019. An image of Campbell climbing Mont Blanc can be seen here.
Wonder why the PS right about now? 🙂