Black Deaf History

The credit for this work is as follows:
Markham, James W. "Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School." July 24, 2020.
Ogunyipe, Benro. "Black Deaf Culture Through the Lens of History." Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d. Web. Updated February, 2021
Miller, Rann. "Teaching Black History in Culturally Responsive Ways." February 7, 2020.
A Short Commentary on the History, Culture, and Education of Black Deaf People
Do you think Black Deaf people see themselves as members of both cultures and communities?
Black Deaf people have one of the most unique cultures in the world. The Black Deaf Community is largely shaped by two cultures and communities: Deaf and African-American. Some Black Deaf individuals view themselves as members of both communities. Since both communities are viewed by the larger, predominately hearing and White society as comprising a minority community, Black Deaf persons often experience double prejudice against them in terms of racial discrimination and communication barriers. Black Deaf women may experience three strikes of prejudice against them due to their race, Deafness, and sexist practices that prevail in our male-dominated culture.
What organizations were involved in fighting for equality for Black people? do you think Deaf people were included?
Virginia State School Deaf Black Students and Teacher
These discriminatory practices can be traced back to the segregation era during the 17th to mid 20th centuries. Black Deaf individuals were not accepted in either the Deaf or the African-American community. Black organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the National Urban League were focused exclusively on fighting for equality and equal rights for the African-American community. The concerns of the Black Deaf community were not the focus of national civil rights organizations such as NAACP, SCLC, and the National Urban League. The Black Deaf community had no communication access with these national civil rights organizations and their leaders.
Did you know that NAD prohibited Black membership until 1965?
The ideal fight for equal access would point to joining with Deaf organizations. Unfortunately, Black Deaf people were prohibited from joining Deaf organizations and clubs. The premier national advocacy organization for the rights of deaf people, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), prohibited Black membership for 40 years until 1965, a year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From its founding in 1864 until 1950, Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University), did not admit and graduate Black Deaf students. The college had its first Black graduate, Andrew J. Foster, in 1954 - the same year of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
Do you think that TSD was one of the 15 states that had a separate school for Black and White Deaf students? (Watch for an upcoming video on Segregation at TSD)
From the 1870s until the 1970s, at least 15 states, mostly in the south, maintained separate schools for Black and White deaf students. Integration of Black and White students did not occur until after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. In 2011, former Black Deaf students of Kentucky School for the Deaf received long overdue diplomas once denied to them 60 years earlier because of the color of their skin. Because Black deaf students were prohibited from opportunities to interact with students and teachers on the White Deaf school campuses, this separation contribution to the development of Black ASL, a variety of American Sign Language that's distinctively different from those of white deaf students' signs.
Why do you think "The Deaf Club" was considered a Deaf person's second home? Do you think that is still true today? Why or Why not?
According to Solomon (2018), "The Deaf club is essentially a Deaf person's second home, providing a place where the Deaf can come together, exchange ideas, develop friendships, participate in social events, and have the opportunity to attain a leadership position within the Deaf community. After World War II Black Deaf [people] found themselves in need of a place to meet so they began to form their own clubs, congregations, and organizations."
Because of the denied acceptance and membership in Deaf organizations and clubs that were exclusively for white Deaf persons, Black Deaf organizations arose during the 1950s and 1960s in the urban cities with large numbers of Black Deaf residents such as Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC.  
Why were Black Deaf leaders unhappy with NAD in 1980?
At the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) Convention held in Cincinnati, OH in 1980, a group of Black Deaf leaders presented a list of concerns to the convention delegates. These included issues such as the NAD's lack of attentiveness to the concerns of Black Deaf Americans as well as the lack of representation of Black Deaf individuals as convention delegates. They specifically requested NAD to take action to communicate better with the Black Deaf community, encourage the involvement of minorities within the national and state organizations, and recruit more Black Deaf children in the Junior NAD and NAD Youth Leadership Camp, all of which hindered Black Deaf people's goal of achieving their full potential.
What new organizations was formed in 1982?
The course of history for the Black Deaf community began to take on a new direction in 1981 when a local committee in Washington, DC organized the Eastern Regional Black Deaf Conference at Howard University, and in 1982 at a national conference entitled "Black Deaf Strength through Awareness" held in Cleveland, Ohio. An important outcome of the conference was the establishment of a new organization, National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA).
The establishment of NBDA has spurred the growth of local chapters in Washington, DC, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Atlanta, and many other cities. Currently, the NBDA has over 30 local chapters and sponsors a variety of programs such as leadership training programs for high school and college students, a Miss Black Deaf America Pageant, leadership opportunities at the local and national levels, workshops at regional and national conferences, and a scholarship program for deserving Black Deaf college students.
Did you know there was a Miss Deaf Black America Pageant? Does it still exist? What message is important from Chanae Laidee, Miss Black Deaf America of 2015?
Chenae Laldee, NDBA's Miss Black Deaf America 2013 - 2015
What did the supreme court decide in the landmark case brown  of education in 1954?
The Fight for Integration of Black Deaf Education

A group of Black Deaf people campaigned to raise awareness about honoring the legacy of a Black mother, Louise B. Miller, who successfully sued the D.C. Board of Education in 1952 to have her child and Black Deaf students educated within the district. This U.S. District Court order led to the establishment of Kendall School Division II School for Negroes, a school which was segregated from the main Kendall school. The case was a precursor of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which outlawed school segregation.

The plaque commemorating Kendall School Division II School for Negroes is posted less visibly on the Gallaudet campus. Gallaudet is committed to the test of creating a memorial honoring Louise B. Miller, the 23 Black Deaf students, and four teachers of the Division II School. The story of the fight was documented in the film Class of '52. [VIDEO]

[If you want to learn more about the Louise B. Miller story, go to:]
LSD was the last school integrated in 1978. why do you think it took lsd so long to integrate? when do you think tsd integrated?
The Story of the Last Segregated School for the Deaf

In 1978, Louisiana was the last segregated state school for the Deaf to become integrated in the United States. Sorenson Communications seized the opportunity to celebrate and honor four graduates of the Southern School for the Deaf (SSD) in Baton Rouge. Formerly known as Louisiana State School for the Colored Deaf and Blind (also Southern State School for the Negro Deaf), it was housed on the campus of Southern University, a member of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). The Black Deaf alumni of SSD shared the stories of their time at the school, their use of Black ASL in the classroom, and the Black Deaf experience in a five-minute short film, Black Deaf History - Southern School for the Deaf.
Why do you think it is important to have Black Deaf People in Leadership Positions?
Black Deaf People in New Leadership Positions

There have been significant hires and appointments of Black Deaf people to new leadership positions in the past few years. 

In the public sector, Earnest Covington III became the Executive Director fo the Rhode Island Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Benro Ogunyipe  as the Executive Director of the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission; and most recently, Dr. Opeoluwa Sotonwa as the Commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

In education, Ernest E. Garrett III became the Superintendent of the Louisiana Special School District (SSD); Shanae Rouse as the Director of High School at the Alabama School for the Deaf; and Alesia Allen as Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

In the corporate sector, Storm Smith is the Producer of BBDO Worldwide; Claudia Gordon, Director of Government and Compliance at T-Mobile; Justin Folk, Vice President Finance of Folk Williams Financial Management, Inc.; Corey Burton, Director of ZVRS & Purple Communication's Enterprise Video Solutions Account Management; and Isidore Niyongabo, Director of Human Resources at Convo.

[Id: Photo is of Ernest E. Garrett III, Superintendent of the Louisiana Special School District.]
How do you think we can encourage more Black Deaf individual to seek doctorate degrees?
New Additions of Black Deaf Individuals With Doctorate Degrees

Dr. David James and Dr. Glenn B. Anderson are the first Black Deaf people to earn a doctorate in 1977 and 1982, respectively. Dr. Shirley Allen became the first Black Deaf woman to earn a doctorate in 1992.

Today there are now approximately 20 known Black Deaf scholars. Most notably, the new additions to the ranks are: Dr. Opeoluwa Sotonwa, Dr. Alesia Allen, Dr. Onudeah Nicolarakis, Dr. Rezenet Moges-Riedel, and Dr. Slemo Warigon. Dr. Jenelle Rouse made history as the first known Black Deaf Canadian with a doctorate degree.

Prospects for the future look promising with several Black Deaf candidates currently pursuing their doctoral degrees.

[Id: Photo is the cover page of Deaf Life featuring Dr. Shirley Allen, first Black Deaf woman to earn a doctorate.]
House is Black ASL Different than ASL? As You Watch some of the videos, think about some of these differences.

Black ASL in News Media and a Documentary
Black American Sign Language (BASL) has gained more attention in the news media in the past few years. Major newspapers have featured Black ASL, including Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times

Led by Dr. Carolyn McCaskill and Dr. Joseph Hill, authors of The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure (2011), Black ASL made its way into the television media and had its first documentary. The Signing Black in America documentary was screened in 2020 and aired on PBS stations in selected cities, highlighting the history and development of Black ASL.

Black ASL content crossed the border into Canadian TV and inspired Black Deaf Canadians to advocate for further research of BASL in the Canadian Black Deaf community.

[Id: Image is a book with a black and white photo of a Black teacher and Black students with the title: The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: It's History and Structure, by Carolyn McCaskill, Ceil Lucas, Robert Bayley, Joseph Hill, in collaboration with Roxanne Dummett, Pamela Baldwin, and Randall Hogue.]
The Language & Life Project: Signing Black in America
Can you think of examples on how BASL signs are different from ASL?

Black ASL Content in Social Media

In April 2020, Nakia Smith, aka Charmay, created a TikTok account introducing five generations of her Black Deaf family and how they communicate in Black ASL. As a social media influencer of Black ASL content, Charmay made a series of educational and informative videos on the history and practice of Black ASL.

Charmay's video went viral, landing in a New York Times article, Black Deaf and Extremely Online, and Blavity: TikTok Has Gone Viral For Putting The Culture On To Black American Sign Language. Additionally, Netflix requested Charmay to explain the difference between Black ASL and ASL.
Nakia Smith, aka Charmay, explain Black American Sign Language (BASL) and how it's different from American Sign Language (ASL)
Why do you think some people fear the BASL will disappear?  How do you think we can preserve it?

In Celebration of Black History Month, McDonald's launched "Future 22," a creative campaign that celebrates the work of 22 young, gifted and Black leaders. One of those individuals McDonald's featured is J.C. Smith, a student at Gallaudet University, whose bold actions advance equity among the Deaf community and ensure the rich history and culture of Black ASL is preserved. 
J.C. Smith Black ASL Advocate is changing the future
TSD Black Deaf History

Why do you think black children were sent to a school for blind, deaf, and orphans.
The Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School, a charity-sponsored institution for black children, was located on a hundred-acre tract on Bull Creek Road between 38th and 45th streets, about four miles northwest of the Austin business district. It was established as the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute for Colored Youth in 1887 by the 18th Legislature. 

The initial campus consisted only of an eleven-room residence, but in 1888 a new two-story brick building was added to provide more classroom and dormitory space. Various additions and renovations took place during the next several decades; by the 1940s the school had twelve brick buildings and one stone building, including dormitories, classrooms, hospital, superintendent's residence, and dining room. 

[Id: Black and white photo of the Institute for Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Colored Youth building. A man in a white long sleeve shirt and dark vest is seen kneeling on the ground in front of the building. This photo was taken in 1897.]
TSD High School students created this photo montage titled Remembering Bull Creek and East Campus on February 24, 2023.


How are the trades offered in the 1940s different from our cte classes today..
Instruction at the accredited high school emphasized training in trades and industries. Among the courses offered were manual labor, broom making, mattress making, shoemaking and repair, tailoring, cleaning and pressing, cooking, sewing, rug making, and other handicrafts. 

The hospital furnished surgical, medical, dental, and nursing services; specialists for eye, ear, nose, and throat ailments were employed part-time. 

Some poultry and farm products were raised each year for the home's own use.

When the State Colored Orphans' Home was combined with the institute in 1943, the name of the facility was changed to Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School.

[Id: Black and white photo shows a Black teacher showing a Black student how to stuff a mattress. This photo was taken in 1940.]
Do you know why 1965 is important in TSD’s history? 
The school was moved to 601 Airport Blvd. in 1961, after the legislature appropriated $1.5 million for the construction of eleven buildings to accommodate the 1,208 students. 

The school was placed under the jurisdiction of the Texas Education Agency in 1965, and its name was changed to Texas Blind and Deaf School. It was combined with the Texas School for the Deaf later that year.
On February 24, 2023, TSD hosted the Blind, Deaf, and Orphan (BDO) alumni for a two day event remembering the Bull Creek and BDO history. The group of alums shared stories and experiences dating back to the days of segregation to TSD's high school students. 
[Id: Black and white photo shows a birds-eye view of the East Campus.]
TSD Black History Forever
Resources, Advocacy, and Outreach
Do you think it's important to resources, outreach centers, and advocacy organizations that share Black Deaf experiences?
Black Deaf Center: The New Centralized Black Deaf Resources
In June 2020, a Black Deaf collaboration team led by the founder Tar Gilliam launched the Black Deaf Center website as a one-stop place for housing and sharing community resources regarding the Black Deaf experience. 

The BDC website includes documentaries and vlogs highlighting Black Deaf experience, education books for all ages, a list of Black Deaf persons providing presentations and workshops, Black Deaf-owned businesses, connection with Black Deaf Youth, and more.

[Id: Image is the logo for the Black Deaf Center. The logo includes an image of four fists in colors green, black, yellow, and red, and black text next to it that reads Black Deaf Center.]
Center for Black Deaf Studies Established at Gallaudet University
In 2020, Gallaudet University established the first-of-its-kind Center for Black Deaf Studies (CBDS) as an outreach center for teaching and learning about the Black Deaf experience, and providing easy access to a range of useful content resources. Professor Dr. Carolyn McCaskill is serving as CBDS's founding Director. 

One of the CBDS goals is to offer a minor focusing on the histories and cultures of African Americans with an appreciation for the historical, social, and political influences of Africa and the African diaspora. 

Read the USA Today article about CBDS HERE.

[Id: Image is the logo for Gallaudet University. The logo is the letters G and U with a wave over it in the school colors of blue and buff.]
National Black Deaf Advocates
National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) is the official advocacy organization for thousands of Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans. For more than three decades, NBDA has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts for civil rights and equal access to education, employment, and social services on behalf of the Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing in the United States. 

The organization's mission is "to promote the leadership development, economics, and educational opportunities; social equality; and to safeguard the general health and welfare of Black Deaf and hard of hearing people."

Founded in 1982, NBDA is a growing organization with more than 30 chapters across the country. As a non-profit organization, NBDA is supported by its members and others interested in furthering the mission, vision, and strategic objectives of this esteemed organization. Membership includes Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing; parents of Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing children; professionals who work with Black Deaf and Hard of Hearing youth and adults; sign language interpreters; people of color; and other interested individuals and organizations.

For more information about NBDA, please visit

[Id: Image is the logo for the National Black Deaf Advocates. The logo includes map of the United States with  the ASL sign for advocate in the center, and text around it that reads National Black Deaf Advocates.]

For the Educator

Teaching Black History in Culturally Responsive Ways
By Rann Miller

Black history is American history, and it should be taught throughout the year across the curriculum - not confined to a single month.
Why do you think people say Black History should be taught year-round?

Black History is American History
Infuse Black history into the curriculum year-round: Tom Joyner used the phrase "Black history 365 days a year" to mean that Black history isn't a gimmick meant for one month out of the year, with a student assembly or a potluck dinner with traditional Black foods. Black history is American history. Students should learn throughout the year and throughout all disciplines about the accomplishments, experiences, and perspectives of Black people.

English: Provide students with texts written by Black people... Students should be introduced to texts by Black authors that speak to Black experiences, Black perspectives, and Black accomplishments. These authors remind children and adults that Black excellence is not confined to athletics and entertainment. 

Mathematics and Science: Refer students to famous Black scientists and mathematicians throughout your course. Discuss how Black people showed an understanding of agricultural science in how they used soil in both West Africa and South Caroline to grow rice. Also, you can study the mathematical patterns of African art, and reference the rich history of math in sub-Saharan Africa in the areas of geometry, graphs, and numerical systems - you can engage students by playing African games like mandala that have a strong math component.

Social studies: Incorporate primary and secondary source documents by or about Black people in student reading lists. Create an assignment in which students interview Black history scholars to discuss the Black experience in America throughout a social studies course.

Teaching students about important people is a great thing -- even better is doing it in the context of your lessons, rather than in a set-aside month. 

Read the complete article HERE.
Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, discusses culturally responsive teaching- what it is and what it is not.
Ask your teachers about Culturally Responsive Teaching.
  • McCaskill, Carolyn. The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press, 2011
  • Solomon, Andrea (2018): Cultural and Sociolinguistic Features of the Black Deaf Community. Carnegie Mellon University. Thesis.
  • Tabak, John. Significant Gestures: A History of American Sign Language. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2006.
Markham, James W. "Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School." July 24, 2020.
Ogunyipe, Benro. "Black Deaf Culture Through the Lens of History." Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d. Web. Updated February, 2021
Miller, Rann. "Teaching Black History in Culturally Responsive Ways." February 7, 2020.
Remembering Bull Creek
Created by TSD High School students
ASL Interpreter Justina Miles Performs Rihanna's Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show
TSD Black History Forever
Tidbits on Juneteenth in ASL by Jazzy Jones
Robert Smith
Robert Smith, first Deaf Black student to graduate from TSD in 1966.
First Deaf Black student to graduate from TSD in 1966.
Andrew Foster 
Black and white photo of Andrew Foster, first African American to earn a Bachelors degree from Gallaudet.
The first African American to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from Gallaudet. 
Read more HERE.
Azie Taylor Morton
Black and white photo of Azie Taylor Morton.
A graduate of Texas Blind, Deaf, and Orphan School, Azie Taylor Morton, a CODA, served as Treasurer of the United States during the Carter Administration.
Read more HERE.
Sounds Like Home:
Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South by Mary Herring Wright
Image of book Sounds Like Home Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South by Mary Herring Wright.
Carolyn McCaskill Interviews Mary Herring Wright for the Black ASL Project
Commentary: "Sounds Like Home: Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South" by Mary Herring Wright 
Article: Professional ASL Interpreter P. Lanette Pinkard Shares Her Thoughts on Deaf Black Americans: Raising Awareness for February Black History Month
Austin Mayor Kirk Watson City Proclamation on BDO, February 2023