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Sign Language Studies

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 in an oral class at Kendall School

These four hearing Black teachers were charged with instructing the first class of Black students in almost fifty years at Kendall School. The class had twenty-four students, sixteen of whom had transferred from the Maryland School for the Colored Deaf.64 Because there were no dormitory facilities for them, the Black students arrived at and departed from the campus in Yellow Cabs.65 Although Gallaudet College paid for the students’ transportation, this process served to further remind them that they were a separate part of the school. Former student Robert Milburn remarked that initially the cab rides were fun, but they quickly lost their appeal. He said that he soon began to think “they wanted to get us in and out as fast as they could.”66

Construction began on the dorms for Black students in the fall of 1952 and was completed in spring of 1953. This allowed the students to stay on campus, although in a segregated environment. That environment prevented the Black students from obtaining education equal to that received by white students. There was a vast difference in the quality of the curriculum offered to the students in Division I and Division II. The curriculum given to the Black teachers consisted of a list of words, a list of prepositions, color words, and number words. The Division I curriculum was similar, but the students had textbooks and they took economics. There were no textbooks for Division II students or any vocational courses for them. The advantages for the Division I students were obvious.67

The 1952 Miller decision is significant because it made possible the education of Black deaf school-age residents of the district within the boundaries of the city. These children no longer had to leave their families and be without their guidance, support, and interaction. What the decision did not do, and could not do, was overturn the district’s policy of educational segregation. Neither could it erase the prejudice and racism of white teachers who refused to instruct Black students. The hiring of Black teachers who were dedicated to providing the best possible education to the students was another positive result of Miller. But the dream of educational equality would not be realized until the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. At the beginning of the academic year after the Brown decision, for the first time in almost fifty years, Black and white deaf students took their places in Kendall School classrooms together.


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