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

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In the fall of 1952, Black students were again attending Kendall School. Cooke felt that “the victory for the families and students was one of the more significant undertakings of the AVC.” Challenging the type of injustice that was inflicted upon the deaf community was one of the reasons he had become a member of the AVC. Cooke believed that a tremendous injustice had been righted.46

This victory proved bittersweet for the students as they joined their hearing peers in the district’s segregated school system. The policy of segregation mandated that in the aftermath of the court decision the Kendall School had to set up a separate area for Black students. The result was Kendall’s creation of Division I for the white students and Division II for the Black students.

A positive and significant change brought about by Miller v. D.C. Board of Education was the hiring of Black teachers. This became a necessity after the hostile response of the white teaching staff to the return of Black students. Some were quite vocal in their refusal to teach Black students. A few wore black armbands after the decision and the return of the students to show that they were in mourning for the passing of the institution’s policy of segregation.47

Finding Black teachers was not an easy matter, for Black teachers of the deaf and deaf Black teachers historically had been in short supply.48 In 1914, Thomas Flowers, a Black deaf educator from the North Carolina School for the Colored Deaf expressed concern about the specific challenges that Black deaf and hearing teachers faced. Low pay, poor facilities, and large classes kept a significant number of Black teachers from entering the field, he said.49 At the 1939 Conference of Executives of American Schools for the Deaf, Clarence J. Settles stated that the major reason for the shortage of teachers of color was the absence of special teacher-training schools for Blacks. He also believed that the lack of summer school classes was a factor.50

To determine the current number of Black teachers of deaf Black students and, therefore, the need for more Black teachers, Settles sent a survey to the sixteen schools in the country that had schools or departments for Black deaf students. The educators analyzed the survey data and concluded that a training center for Black teachers should be established at some institution in the South. The survey responses revealed a general consensus that more African American teachers needed to be trained, but when, how, and where varied between schools that had departments and those that had separate schools for Black students. Howard University and Hampton Institute were recommended as good places to set up a summer training program. The never-ending debate regarding whether the training should be oral or manual was also mentioned. The surveyors also noted the issue of financial need, especially for poor teachers who did not have funds to travel.51

Surprisingly, the questionnaire did not ask about the race of the teachers. The only question regarding race referred to the principal or supervising teacher of the “colored school.” Some institutions, like the Maryland School for the Black Colored Deaf, employed white instructors. James Bledsoe, superintendent of the school, responded that

Our department for the colored deaf in the Maryland School for the Blind is, I think, one of the oldest in the country. It started in 1872. Since that time our teachers have all been white persons. We have never had any colored people as teachers or officers in that school. So far we have not had any great difficulty in securing teachers. . . . So far as we are concerned, we don’t feel that we need any such training as that spoken of by Mr. Settles, but I think that probably, for the majority of the schools in the south, they do need that training.52
The 1947 directory issue of the American Annals of the Deaf included a list of the 105 Black teachers (71 were women) who were teaching at twelve residential schools in the country. The journal also mentioned that there were 1,160 Black deaf students in residential schools across the country.53

In 1953, the American Annals of the Deaf published information on the number of teachers and pupils in public residential schools for the deaf as of October 31, 1952, the same year that Kendall School hired its first Black instructors. The journal included the new Division II at the school. The data showed that among five Black schools for the deaf—Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Maryland, and Mississippi—there were seventeen deaf academic instructors. Three of the institutions (Alabama, Maryland, and Mississippi) collectively had eight deaf teachers for vocational classes. Four of the deaf academic teachers and one deaf vocational instructor taught at the Maryland school. There is no indication, however, that the deaf instructors at the Black schools were Black. The white institutions employed a significantly higher number of deaf instructors. The 61 schools included in the Annals reported having a total of 216 deaf academic instructors and 165 vocational instructors.54

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