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A Fair Chance
in the Race of Life: The Role of Gallaudet University in Deaf History|
Elstad’s response to Nierman addressed several issues. He acknowledged that white deaf children from the district were educated at Kendall School. He further informed her that the education of “colored deaf children” was provided for in statutes dating back to the founding of the institution. He stated that the collegiate department of the institution had a Black student. According to Elstad there would be more, but “the difficulty has been that the education of the colored deaf is so far behind that of the white deaf that they have not been able to reach college entrance level in their education.”32 He noted that Kendall School had a different situation because of legal segregation and that
As long as all the white deaf children of the District of Columbia are educated here, we are compelled to refuse entrance to colored deaf children in that department. It would seem, therefore, that if colored deaf children were to be educated here it would have to be on a segregated basis.33Hobart Corning, superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools, wrote to Nierman on May 14, 1951. He outlined the policy for educating Black deaf children and explained that the responsibility for that policy was not with the office of the superintendent of public schools. Joseph Donohue, commissioner, District of Columbia, wrote to Nierman on July 23, 1951, and related part of a conference with Elstad.
As you probably know, under Section 1011 of Title 31 of the D.C. Code, the directors of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf are authorized to provide for the education of colored deaf mute children properly belonging to the District of Columbia in Maryland School. I take it that the authorization contained in that section of the Code is tantamount to a direction . . . that the solution of the problem requires an authorization from Congress to establish facilities for teaching the deaf colored mutes of the District of Columbia within the District of Columbia.34Donohue also made a statement about this matter in the Washington Post on July 24, 1951. It spoke to the effect of the AVC’s advocacy for the deaf children of the district. The Post reported,
District Commissioner F. Joseph Donohue said yesterday he plans to study the possibility of having deaf Negro children educated here. They now go to a school at Overlea, Md., near Baltimore. Deaf white children are sent to Kendall School, which is part of the Federally-subsidized Columbian [sic] Institution for the Deaf here which also includes Gallaudet College . . . Donohue announced his plans after hearing requests for local education of the handicapped Negro children from the Greater Washington Council of American Veterans Committee. . . . Because of the shortage of the Negro teachers trained for work with the deaf, Elstad told Donohue, the board of education might have difficulty in staffing the school, but Gallaudet could furnish teachers. Meanwhile, school officials have been studying the entire program of education for the deaf children. A report and recommendations will probably be given the board this fall.”35John L. Thurston, the acting administrator of the Federal Security Agency, wrote to Nierman on August 15, 1951. His letter replied to the AVC’s inquiry about education for the deaf Black children of the district.
In specific answer to your question, then, it would appear that the matter is not within the control of the Federal Security Agency. In fact, it appears to be inseparably connected with the problem of educational segregation in the schools of the District of Columbia, a matter entirely outside the responsibility or authority of this Agency.36The correspondence with the agencies involved in the process did not bring any immediate change to the children’s situation. Cooke and the AVC Board believed that the parents should join together and fight for an end to the policy of educational segregation that had for so long affected their families.37 The strategy set an example that was used later in the Brown v. Board of Education suit filed in 1954. Cooke assembled Miller, Minnie Mayfield, David Hood and his wife, Clyde Howard, Marvin Brown, Grace Jones, and Luke Richardson, all parents of district African American deaf children who attended either the Maryland or Pennsylvania institutions. They gathered at the AVC Clubhouse located in the Northwest section of the district, and there they met representatives from the law firm of Cobb, Howard, and Hayes, which would take legal action on their behalf.
The next step in the AVC strategy was a letter-writing campaign. Parents were encouraged to state their concerns in writing. They agreed to start documenting their requests for a change in the policy of sending their children to another state for education. The letters were sent to the Board of Education. Minnie Mayfield’s August 1951 letter to the Board of Education stressed the importance of having a child remain with his or her family, and it became the model for all of the other letters.