U.S: At Last, 24 Black Deaf Students Who Set Historic Precedent Awarded Their Diplomas 

Photo credit: Gallaudet University via Instagram

Gallaudet University authorities have granted diplomas to 24 Black deaf students and four Black teachers of the Kendall School Division II for Negroes, which operated on the campus of Gallaudet University in the 1950s. Due to segregation, the 24 Black deaf students and professors were denied diplomas 70 years ago.

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The school’s Board of Trustees renamed graduation day “Kendall 24 Day” to honor the valiant students and instructors and to apologize for the injustice done to them. The high school diplomas were presented to the descendants of the 24 pupils, five of whom attended the ceremony. Janice Boyd (Ruffin), Kenneth Miller, Clifford Ogburn, Charles Robinson, and Norman Robinson were among the five that attended the graduation ceremony with their families.

The University apologized to Robert Lee Jones, Richard King Jr., Rial Loftis, Deborah Maton, William Matthews, Donald Mayfield, Robert Milburn, Kenneth Miller, Willie Moore Jr., Clifford Ogburn, Diana Pearson (Hill), Doris Richardson, Julian Richardson, Charles Robinson, Christine Robinson, Norman Robinson, Barbara Shorter, Dorothy Watkins (Jennings), Mary Arnold, Janice Boyd (Ruffin), Irene Brown, Darrell Chatman, Robbie Cheatham, and Dorothy Howard (Miller) for the wrongs of the past perpetuated against them, the University said in a statement.

Kendall School, a K-12 institution on the Gallaudet University campus, accepted Black pupils from 1898 to 1905. White parents who were opposed to integrating Black kids quickly objected to the proposal. The black deaf pupils were eventually transferred to the Maryland School for the Colored Blind and Deaf-Mutes in Baltimore or the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia.

The tide turned when Louise B. Miller, a District of Columbia mother with four children, three of whom were deaf, attempted to enroll her oldest son Kenneth at Kendall. He was denied entrance to the school because he was black. In 1952, Miller, along with the parents of four other black deaf students, filed a class action lawsuit against the school and won, allowing Kenneth and other black deaf students to attend Kendall School.

The court ruled that black deaf pupils may not be moved outside of the state or district to receive the same education as white students. Following that, the segregated Kendall School Division II for Negroes was erected on the Gallaudet University campus. The campus was built with subpar materials and was given insufficient educational resources. The school was disbanded in 1954, following the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, which allowed black pupils to sit in the same class as their white deaf counterparts.

Dr. Carolyn D. McCaskill, the Center for Black Deaf Studies’ founding director, stated that the graduates’ and their families’ spirits can now find closure as a result of the distinction bestowed upon them. She expressed optimism that this will set the tone for the victims to recover as they seek to create a more equal society.

Gallaudet University President Roberta J. Cordano said the act validates the university’s commitment to creating an inclusive environment where students feel like they belong. He commented that no act will be able to bury the injustice done to the graduates, but they have started the process of confronting the university’s institutional past.

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