In a special graduation ceremony held on July 22, Gallaudet University honored 24 Black deaf students who attended the school between 1952 and 1954 with the high school diplomas they were denied while enrolled at Kendall School Division II for Negroes, which operated on the school’s campus at that time.
The ceremony, attended by over 300 people and live-streamed, was held at Gallaudet University’s Center for Black Deaf Studies, the world’s first center dedicated to commemorating Black Deaf history, contributions, and culture.
Five of the six living students and their families attended the ceremony. Also honored at this ceremony were the four Black teachers, all now deceased, of Kendall School Division II, who were represented by their family members at the event.
“While today’s ceremony in no way removes past harms and injustices or the impact of them, it is an important step to strengthen our continued path of healing,” said Roberta J. Cordano, president of Gallaudet University.
From 1898 to 1905, Kendall School, a K-12 institution on the campus of what is now Gallaudet University, accepted and educated Black children. In 1905, white parents protested the integration of races. Black deaf students were forced to transfer to the Maryland School for Colored Blind and Deaf-Mutes in Baltimore or the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia. This effectively eliminated the presence of Black students at Kendall School.
In 1952, Louise B. Miller filed a lawsuit after her son, Kenneth, was turned away from school because he was Black. Miller and other parents of Black deaf children sued The District of Columbia Board of Education for denying their children the opportunity to attend Kendall School.
“The court ruled that Black deaf students could not be sent outside the state or district to obtain the same education that White students were provided,” according to Gallaudet.
However, rather than accepting Black Deaf students into Kendall School outright, the school created a segregated facility, Kendall School Division II for Negroes, on the campus of Kendall School, where fewer resources were allotted to educate Black students.
Eventually, deaf Black students attended school with their white deaf peers after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ruled that school segregation was illegal.
The school’s board of trustees apologized for the institution’s previous inequitable treatment of its Black students. “Gallaudet deeply regrets the role it played in perpetuating the historic inequity, systemic marginalization, and the grave injustice committed against the Black Deaf community when Black Deaf students were excluded at Kendall School and in denying the 24 Black Deaf Kendall School students their diplomas,” the school stated.
Today, the university has committed to building the Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens: A Legacy to Black Deaf Children memorial to honor Miller and serve as a “space for reflection and healing through remembrance of all who have fought for the equality that Black Deaf children deserve,” according to Gallaudet.
Gallaudet University has also declared July 22 as Kendall 24 Day.