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A Fair Chance in the Race of Life: The Role of Gallaudet University in Deaf History

Brian H. Greenwald and
John Vickrey Van Cleve, Editors

The Struggle to Educate Black Deaf
Schoolchildren in Washington, D.C.

Sandra Jowers-Barber

Editorsí Introduction

Sandra Jowers-Barberís study adds significantly to what is known about Gallaudet University and issues related to race and education. She reviews the history of African American deaf students in the precollege programs on Kendall Green and then focuses specifically on attempts by black parents Louise and Luther Miller to enroll their deaf son, Kenneth, in Kendall School. After several years of frustration with Gallaudetís administrators and with the Washington, D.C., Board of Education, in 1952 the Millers triumphed. In a decision known as Miller v. D.C. Board of Education, the U.S. District court ruled that Kendall School had to accept black students from the District of Columbia. Kendall School responded by creating separate facilities, called Division II, for African American deaf students, actively resisting integration until the Supreme Courtís 1954 decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. Jowers-Barber concludes that Gallaudet, although a unique national institution, funded largely by the federal government to serve all deaf Americans, nevertheless followed the trends of the time and did not challenge prevailing racial policies.
For many Americans the chance to obtain an education has been a struggle. Frederick Douglass recounts how during his enslavement his ownerís wife started teaching him to read only to stop after her husband forbade the lessons. At the risk of severe physical punishment he used every opportunity he could find to continue his education.1 For a great many African Americans, hearing and deaf, the struggle to obtain an integrated education lasted well into the twentieth century and ended with the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.2

African American deaf children of school age in the District of Columbia began that struggle after an early, but brief, promise of educational integration. The Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind was established by Amos Kendall in the district in 1856. A year later, it was incorporated by an act of Congress.3 On February 16, 1857, Kendall secured the passage of another act that granted an allowance of one hundred and fifty dollars a year for the maintenance and tuition of each child received in the institution from the district.4


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