Gallaudet University Holds Graduation Ceremony For Black Deaf Students And Teachers Segregated In The 1950s
At a graduation ceremony held on July 22, 2023, Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., awarded 24 Black deaf students, all of which attended the school between 1952 and 1954, the high school diplomas they were denied when they were enrolled there. Four Black teachers were also honored.
Five of the six living students and their families attended the ceremony, which was hosted by the university’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 Roberta J. Cordano, president of Gallaudet University.
A statement by the university revealed that in the early 1950s, Black students and teachers were segregated from their white counterparts and forced to attend the Kendall School Division II for Negroes on Gallaudet’s campus.
View this post on Instagram
The school’s board of trustees acknowledged the school’s inequitable treatment of its students back then and released an apology. “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,” the school stated in an apology to all 24 students.
Black students were allowed to enroll in the Kendall School in 1898, but were forced to transfer after white parents protested the integration of Black students in 1905. The Black students were transferred to either the Maryland School for the Colored Blind and Deaf-Mutes in Baltimore or to the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia.
In 1952, Louise B. Miller initiated a court case after the school denied acceptance of her son, Kenneth, because he was Black. Miller and other parents of Black deaf children won a civil lawsuit against the District of Columbia Board of Education for the right of Black deaf children to attend Kendall School.
“The court ruled that Black deaf students could not be sent outside the state or district to obtain the same education that White students were provided,” according to Gallaudet. The school created a segregated facility, Kendall School Division II for Negroes, on the campus of Kendall School, where fewer resources were allotted to educate the students.
Eventually, deaf Black students attended school with their white peers after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.
Today, the university’s Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens: A Legacy to Black Deaf Children memorial honors Miller and serves as a “space for reflection and healing through remembrance of all who have fought for the equality that Black Deaf children deserve,” according to Gallaudet.
The university has also declared July 22 as Kendall 24 Day.