24 Black deaf students awarded their diplomas after being denied the honors in the 1950s

Stephen Nartey July 25, 2023
The black deaf graduates/Photo credit: Gallaudet University via Instagram

Authorities of the school for deaf and hard of hearing students, Gallaudet University, have awarded 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. The 24 Black deaf students and their teachers were denied diplomas 70 years ago due to segregation.

The Board of Trustees of the school christened the graduation day “Kendall 24 Day” to salute the gallant students and teachers and apologize for the injustice done to them. The high school diplomas were received by the descendants of the 24 students, five of whom showed up to grace the occasion. The five – Janice Boyd (Ruffin), Kenneth Miller, Clifford Ogburn, Charles Robinson, and Norman Robinson – 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 program on the campus of Gallaudet University, enrolled Black students from 1898 to 1905. The move was soon met with resistance from white parents who were opposed to integrating Black students. The black deaf students were later sent to Maryland School for the Colored Blind and Deaf-Mutes in Baltimore or to the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia.

The tide turned when a District of Columbia resident, Louise B. Miller, who had four children with three being deaf, sought to enroll her oldest son Kenneth at Kendall. The school authorities rejected his admission because he was black. In 1952, Miller joined by parents of four other black deaf students sued the school and won the class action to allow Kenneth and other black deaf students to attend Kendall School.

The court in its ruling said that black deaf students could not be sent outside the state or district to access the same education that white students were given. In the wake of that, the segregated Kendall School Division II for Negroes was built on the Gallaudet campus. The campus was built with inferior building materials and was allocated limited education materials. In 1954, the school was closed down after the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case, which opened the floodgates for black students to sit in the same class with their white deaf colleagues.

Founding director of the Center for Black Deaf Studies, Dr. Carolyn D. McCaskill, said the souls of the graduates and their families can now have closure following the honor done them. She expressed the hope that this will set the tone for the victims to heal while they work towards creating an equitable society.

Roberta J. Cordano, President of Gallaudet University, said the act lends credence to the university’s dedication to building an inclusive ecosystem where students would feel they belonged to a community. He observed that no act will be able to bury the injustice done to the graduates, but, they have set the ball rolling to confront the institutional history of the university.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 25, 2023


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