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American Annals of the Deaf

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

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                                         Students at Kendall School

Although Black deaf teachers had always been a small minority, they had a long history of teaching in the South. North Carolina, which established the first state school for Black deaf children in 1869 in Raleigh, provided two of the earliest known teachers. In 1877, Julius Garrett and Amanda Johnson, both graduates of the North Carolina program, along with H. L. Johns, who had attended the Maryland school for Black deaf children in Baltimore, were hired as teachers at the Texas Institute for Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Colored Youth.55

The Texas institution had been established through the efforts of William Holland, a former slave who had become a soldier, legislator, and teacher. His proposal to the Texas legislature resulted in the opening of the school on April 5, 1887, and he was named the first superintendent on August 15, 1887. Holland hired Garrett, Johnson, and Johns that same year.56 He also hired a Black hearing teacher and artist, Mattie B. Haywood White, in 1900. For over forty years White taught at the school using innovative and creative techniques. Deaf and blind students were not usually instructed in extensive art courses, but White used sign language and written instructions to teach deaf students to paint, draw, crochet, knit, embroider, and make rugs. Her blind students learned how to crochet and weave baskets and rugs.57

Kendall Schoolís first Black instructors, Rubye Frye, Bessie Thornton, Mary E. Phillips, and Robert Robinson, were also hearing. They all had training in special education and held advanced degrees. One was an ardent oralist; the other three knew and used sign language in the classroom.

Frye had been educated at Howard University in Washington, where she received her BA degree. She moved to New York and attended Hunter College in New York, where she earned an MA degree in special education. Frye learned the oral method of instruction and believed that it was superior to the manual method.58

Thornton received her MA degree in special education from Hampton Institute, in Hampton, Virginia. Before coming to Kendall School, she taught at the Virginia State School at Hampton and the day school for colored deaf in Atlanta, Georgia. She had participated in summer classes taught by Gallaudet instructors at Hampton starting in 1946. Thornton was trained in both the oral and manual methods; however, she believed that the manual method allowed for more effective teaching.59

Phillips attended Hampton Institute with Thornton. She also received her MA degree in special education. She had four years of teaching experience in the department for the deaf at the North Carolina School for the Blind and Deaf in Raleigh. Like Thornton, Phillips had taken summer classes on deaf education taught by Gallaudet instructors. She shared Thorntonís philosophy on teaching with sign language. Phillips thought that oralism could be used with certain students, especially those who were late-deafened.60

Robinson was the only male instructor. The number of male instructors lagged considerably behind female instructors.61 He received his BS degree from Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia, and then Robinson taught at the Virginia State School for the Deaf and Blind in Petersburg. He had taken courses in education of the deaf at Hampton Institute.62 When he was hired at Kendall, Robinson was in the process of writing his masterís thesis. He completed the thesis and received his MA degree before the start of school. Robinson taught using sign and was a proponent of the combined method. He used sign language, writing, speech, and speechreading.63

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