This is seven decades overdue!
While Gallaudet University is a global leader in education for deaf and hard of hearing students today, the Washington, D.C. based institution wasn’t always as inclusive, Black Enterprise reports. Former students and teachers who were Black faced severe discrimination, existing on campus as “others” as a result of the segregation rampant in the nation at the time. During the early 1950s, Black students and teachers were not even allowed to be in community with their white counterparts, relegated to attend classes and teach at the Kendall School Division II for Negroes on Gallaudet’s campus. Now the 150+ year old institution is attempting to right those wrongs.
Recently, Gallaudet University held a graduation ceremony awarding 24 Black Deaf students with the diplomas they should’ve received when they attended the school between 1952 and 1954. Five of the six students still living attended alongside their families, with four former Black Gallaudet teachers honored as well. The event was hosted by the institution’s Center for Black Deaf Studies.
“While today’s ceremony in no way removes past harms and injustices or the impact of them, it is an important step to strengthen our continued path of healing,” said Gallaudet president Roberta J. Cordano.
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Black students were allowed to enroll at the Kendall School as early as 1898, eventually forced to transfer due to protests from white parents regarding integration in 1905. Students were then rerouted to either the Maryland School for the Colored Blind and Deaf-Mutes in Baltimore or the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia. In 1952, after her son was denied acceptance to the University because of his race, Louise B. Miller initiated a court case in partnership with other parents of Black Deaf children, winning a civil lawsuit against the D.C. Board of Education for the right of Black Deaf children to attend the school. While they were permitted to attend, it was in a segregated facility with fewer resources, Black and white students on Gallaudet’s campus not integrated until after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
The graduation ceremony helped to reconcile those past injustices and properly honor those students for their academic matriculation. Today on Gallaudet’s campus, Miller is honored for her work to integrate the school at the Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens: A Legacy to Black Deaf Children. The area serves as a memorial on campus, remembering all of those who have fought for the equality of Black Deaf children. The ceremony helped to build upon that necessary reclamation work, declaring July 22nd as Kendall 24 Day on campus.
The University’s board of trustees acknowledged the institution’s wrongdoing and issued a statement apologizing.
“Gallaudet deeply regrets the role it played in perpetuating the historic inequity, systemic marginalization, and the grave injustice committed against the Black Deaf community when Black Deaf students were excluded at Kendall School and in denying the 24 Black Deaf Kendall School students their diplomas, they said.
Congratulations to all of the graduates and educators who were honored!
Cover photo: Gallaudet hosts grad ceremony for former Black Deaf students denied diplomas due to segregation/Photo Courtesy of Gallaudet University/Instagram