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The Necessity

of Now

The Necessity

of Now

Louise B. Miller fought tirelessly for educational access and quality for her own, and for all, Black deaf children, trailblazing a path to educational justice for all in America. But her story and ensuing legacy have remained hidden for far too long.

Who Was Louise B. Miller?

Louise B. Miller, a Fighter for Equality

Though her story is tied to Black deaf children and Gallaudet University, which was chartered by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and remains the world’s only liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students, it is about much more than that.

Her advocacy demonstrated the universal power of a mother’s love for her children, the societal ills of marginalization and her fearless quest to overcome it, and the ripple effect that advocacy and courage can have across a community, country, and world.

Miller v. D.C. Board of Education

Setting Precedent for America’s Civil Rights Movement

Founded in Washington, D.C., during the American Civil War, Gallaudet University became a racially integrated campus in the 1890’s.

However, due to complaints from white parents, Black deaf students were moved off campus and transferred to the Maryland School for the Colored Blind and Deaf-Mutes during the Jim Crow era in 1905. It would take almost 50 years before they were granted the right to return.

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We have the late Louise B. Miller to thank for being a key catalyst in the quest to end educational injustice that Black deaf children faced during that era, and today we honor her for this and the precedent it set for America’s civil rights movement. In the 1950’s, Mrs. Miller—a Washington, D.C. resident and the mother of four children, including three deaf sons—applied for her eldest son Kenneth’s admission to the nearby Kendall School for the Deaf, a private elementary school on Gallaudet’s campus. Her application was denied because Kenneth was Black. Her children, and other Black deaf children living in the District of Columbia, were forced to go to educational facilities outside of D.C. (which was costly for the Millers).

Undeterred, in 1952 Mrs. Miller led a group of Black parents in a lawsuit against the D.C. Board of Education, on behalf of Kenneth and the other Black deaf children denied admission to Kendall School. More broadly, the fight she led in Miller v. Board of Education would have a profound impact for deaf schools across the country.

Mrs. Miller won the case, in what would become a watershed moment not only in Black deaf history but also the American civil rights movement. Her case, which established that Black students could not be sent outside a state or district to obtain the same education that white students were provided, set the precedent for Brown v. Board of Education just two years later. In that landmark decision in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional, though it wouldn’t be enforced in a meaningful way until later legislation.

Kendall School Division II

A New Form of Discrimination

While Mrs. Miller’s persistence had indeed restored the right of Black deaf students to attend school on campus at Gallaudet, what happened next remains a dark chapter in Gallaudet’s history.

Due to Gallaudet’s own doing, the 23 Black deaf students, who comprised the first group of returning students in 1952, were segregated in their own, inferior school—the Kendall School Division II for Negroes, which was an “annex” to the main Kendall School.

The Kendall School Division II was in operation for only one year and closed following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. What became of the majority of the 23 students is largely unknown (we do know that none of the students received diplomas or attended college).

Recognition

Acknowledging Past Injustices

Gallaudet deeply regrets its role in this dark part of history and the ensuing impact of the decades of injustice experienced by Black deaf children at the Kendall School and Gallaudet University.

We also know that the resulting pain still lingers, and we acknowledge the need to examine our fraught racial legacy and participate in a national reckoning with the discriminatory and destructive legacy of segregation. Though at points throughout our history, Gallaudet has been a site of incredible civil resistance, cultural resolve, and social empowerment, the story of the 23 students covered by the lawsuit that Mrs. Miller led with a group of parents is a prime example of this shameful legacy that Gallaudet played a part in enabling.

Making Amends

Honoring Mrs. Miller’s Legacy and Building a Better Future

Thankfully, throughout our history, members of our student body have raised their voices to fight for justice and call for corrective action just as Mrs. Miller did. It was the leadership of students that prompted Gallaudet, in 2016, to begin examining our fraught racial legacy with the Black deaf community. We started with small steps, such as addressing the poor placement of a plaque that had been previously installed on campus to recognize Mrs. Miller’s efforts. That led us to envision the Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens: A Legacy to Black Deaf Children, which we hope will be a place where people will gather to learn and reflect in impactful ways.

This memorial represents one of the ways that Gallaudet is honoring the legacy, courage, and vision of Mrs. Miller, as well as the 23 Black deaf students and their four Black hearing teachers from Kendall School Division II. It’s also a way to explore our history and strive to build a more inclusive path forward. This builds on the ongoing work of our Center for Black Deaf Studies, established in 2020 as an outreach and research center for teaching and learning about the Black deaf experience.

Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens

A memorial to honor the legacy, courage, and vision of Mrs. Miller, along with the 23 Black deaf students and their Black teachers from Kendall School Division II.

Learn About the Memorial

Center for Black Deaf Studies

An outreach and research center for teaching and learning about the Black Deaf experience, the CBDS provides easy access to a range of useful resources.

Visit the CBDS Site

Join Us

Take action by supporting the development of the Louise B. Miller Pathways and Gardens Memorial and read more about the project and intentions for the site below.

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