June 17, 2024

Gallaudet University holds graduation ceremony for segregated deaf black students and teachers

A historic university for deaf and hard of hearing students in Washington, DC held a graduation ceremony to honor 24 Black deaf students and four Black teachers who were forced to attend segregated schools on their grounds.

Gallaudet University on Saturday honored students who attended the Kendall Division II School for Negroes on the Gallaudet campus in the early 1950s, the university announced in press release.

At the ceremony, the 24 students and their descendants received high school diplomas, and four Black teachers from the Kendall School were also honored.

Five of the six live students attended the graduation ceremony with their families.

Photo Ceremony GallaudetKendall-ID-d75ab4f79ab5
The graduation ceremony at Gallaudet University honoring the 24 Black Deaf students, their teachers, and their families from Kendall School Division II.

Gallaudet University

The university announced “Kendall 24 Day” on July 22 and released a proclamation from the Board of Trustees acknowledging and apologizing for “perpetuating the historic injustice” against students.

“Gallaudet deeply regrets its role in perpetuating the historical inequity, systemic marginalization, and grave injustice committed against the Black Deaf community by excluding Black Deaf students from the Kendall School and denying the diplomas of the 24 Black Deaf students from the Kendall School,” reads the proclamation, which apologized to all 24 students by name.

Gallaudet University’s Kendall School enrolled and educated Black students beginning in 1898, but after White parents complained about racial integration in 1905, Black deaf students were transferred to the Maryland School for the Blind and Deaf-Mutes in Baltimore or to the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia, completely eliminating the presence of Black students at the Kendall School.

In 1952, Louise B. Miller, a hearing mother of four children, three of whom are deaf, launched a court battle after her oldest son Kenneth was refused school because he was Black, according to the university.

Miller, along with the parents of four other Deaf Black children, filed and won a civil lawsuit against the District of Columbia Board of Education for the right of Deaf Black children like her son Kenneth to attend the Kendall School.

“The court ruled that Black Deaf students could not be sent out of state or district to receive the same education as was provided to white students,” the university said.

But instead of accepting Black and Deaf students into the Kendall School, Gallaudet built a segregated Kendall School on its campus, which had fewer resources.

After the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, Kendall School Division II was closed to Negroes and Black students began attending school with their deaf white peers.

The university said it will honor Miller with the Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens: A Legacy to Black Deaf Children. “This memorial will provide a space for reflection and healing by remembering all those who fought for the equality that Black Deaf children deserve,” the university said.

“Today is an important day of recognition and a celebration that is long overdue,” said Gallaudet University President Roberta J. Cordano. “While today’s ceremony in no way eliminates past harms or injustices or their impact, it is an important step in strengthening our ongoing healing path.”

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