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Gallaudet University holds graduation ceremony for segregated Black deaf students and teachers

Gallaudet holds graduation 70 years later
Gallaudet holds graduation for 24 Black deaf students and teachers who were denied diplomas 00:25

A historic university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in Washington, D.C. held a graduation ceremony to honor 24 Black deaf students and four Black teachers who were forced to attend segregated schools on their grounds. 

On Saturday, Gallaudet University honored students who attended the Kendall School Division II for Negroes on the Gallaudet campus in the early 1950s, the university announced in a press release

At the ceremony, the 24 students and their descendants received high school diplomas, and four Black teachers of the Kendall School were also honored. 

Five of the six living students attended the graduation ceremony with their families.

The graduation ceremony at Gallaudet University honoring the 24 Black Deaf students, their teachers, and families from the Kendall School Division II. Gallaudet University

The university proclaimed July 22 "Kendall 24 Day" and issued a Board of Trustees proclamation acknowledging and apologizing for "perpetuating the historic inequity" against the 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 proclamation, which apologizes to all 24 students by name, reads. 

The Kendall School on the Gallaudet University enrolled and educated Black students starting in 1898, but after White parents complained about the integration of races in 1905, Black deaf students were transferred to the Maryland School for the Colored Blind and Deaf-Mutes in Baltimore or to the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Philadelphia, completely eliminating the presence of Black students at Kendall School, the university said. 

In 1952, Louise B. Miller, the hearing mother of four children, three of whom were deaf, launched a court battle after her eldest son Kenneth was denied attendance at the school because he was Black, according to the university. 

Miller, and the parents of four other Black Deaf children, filed and won a civil lawsuit against the District of Columbia Board of Education for the right of Black deaf children like her son Kenneth 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," the university said. 

But instead of simply accepting Black deaf students into Kendall School, Gallaudet built the segregated Kendall School on its campus, which had less resources. 

After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision, Kendall School Division II for Negroes closed and Black students began to attend school with their White deaf peers.

The university said they will honor Miller with the Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens: A Legacy to Black Deaf Children. "This memorial will provide a space for reflection and healing through remembrance of all who have fought for the equality that Black Deaf children deserve," the university said. 

"Today is an important day of recognition and also a celebration long overdue,"president of Gallaudet University Roberta J. Cordano said. "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."

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