Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Struggle to Educate Black Deaf Schoolchildren in Washington, D.C

.By Sandra Jowers-Barber

African American deaf children of school age in the District of Columbia began that struggle after an early, but brief, promise of educational integration. The Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind was established by Amos Kendall in the district in 1856.A year later, it was incorporated by an act of Congress.

On February 16,1857, Kendall secured the passage of another act that granted an allowance of one hundred and fifty dollars a year for the maintenance and tuition of each child received in the institution from the district.
That same year Kendall offered Edward Miner Gallaudet, by letter,the position of superintendent of the Columbia Institution.

Gallaudet’s background was above reproach. His father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, co-founded the first American school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1817. His deaf mother, Sophia, was one of his father’s first students. Gallaudet and his mother came to Washington together. She took the position of housemother to the students.When the school opened, an estimated twenty deaf and ten blind students were expected from the district and an unknown number from Maryland.

Among the students that Gallaudet was preparing to direct were a few who were Black. This was an unusual situation for this period. Before the Civil War, Black people, both deaf and hearing, struggled to obtain a formal education. Because it was a criminal offense in some states to educate enslaved people, those enslaved persons who learned to read, like Frederick Douglass, concealed that fact. However,the pre–Civil War Columbia Institution accepted Black students, but their numbers were always small. Many came because of the intervention of wealthy white patrons. Gallaudet received numerous requests for assistance and generally responded positively to them by accepting the youth at the Kendall School. Gallaudet clearly saw the school’s mission as providing education for all deaf students when he initially accepted both races. He noted in the "History of the College for the Deaf" that there had been “colored pupils since the early days of the school.”

Although Black and white students had separate sleeping and eating accommodations, all of them were taught together in the classroom.

Excerpted from:

IMAGE: Edward Miner Gallaudet


Post a Comment


Facebook Twitter Delicious Stumbleupon Favorites