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The Keeping the Promise (KTP) Program welcomed Kenneth Miller, his brothers, Gerald and Justin, and sister, Carolyn Miller-Hill, to Gallaudet on November 3 for a presentation entitled “The Class of ’52.”

Kenneth Miller was among the first of 16 students to enroll at Kendall School after the U.S. District Court ruling in the landmark 1952 case of Miller v. DC Board of Education, a suit instituted by his mother, Louise Miller, which ordered the acceptance of black deaf residents of the District of Columbia at Kendall School. Under that ruling, black students residing in D.C. were able to attend school close to home. Prior to the ruling, black school-age children in the city had to attend school at the Maryland Institute for the Colored Deaf and Blind near Baltimore, Md.

There is evidence that black students attended Kendall School until 1905, when pressure from some white parents and a 1904 National Association of the Deaf position statement on the matter compelled President Edward Miner Gallaudet to seek Congressional help in having black students transferred to another educational facility.

Miller v. DC Board of Education resulted in the creation of Kendall School Division II for Negroes and the hiring of four African-American teachers–Rubye Frye Hughes, Mary Britt, Robert Robinson, and Bessie Thornton–to teach Kenneth Miller and the 15 other black children in a segregated setting. Kendall School Division II was located in “Ole Jim” during the first year until a new building was opened in 1953 where the Kellogg Conference Hotel now stands. Actual desegregation on campus did not occur until after the 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which also resulted in the dissolution of Kendall School Division II for Negroes.

The Miller family shared these and many other experiences in words, family portraits, and historical documents, including correspondences between their mother and former Gallaudet President Leonard Elstad, court filings, court records, and the actual judgment. It was an emotional evening for them, and also provided the students with what KTP member Maria Perdomo-Siskind described as a look back into history through the eyes of people who had actually lived through it. “This kind of direct narrative of history is better than anything you can read in the history books,” said Perdomo-Siskind. “To see the Miller family in the flesh and hear their stories gave more meaning to the terrible things they and other people of color went through so we could enjoy the rights we do today.”

“It was a powerful and moving lesson in what you can gain from sheer perseverance and also exemplified the depths and power of a mother’s love,” added KTP member Allan “AJ” Williams. “Their mother, Louise Miller, is right up there with more celebrated people like Rosa Parks. We should do something to immortalize her. She was a heroine.”

–‘Bunmi Aina

Director, Keeping the Promise

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