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This episode of #DeafHistorySeries is written in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter & #BlackDisabledLivesMatter.

The first Black man enrolled in Gallaudet University, Andrew Foster spent his life advocating education for Black deaf people in North America, Europe & Africa. a banner with blue background and yellow graphic on the right. the text says Deaf History Series With Dr. Jaipreet Virdi Episode 7 Andrew Foster. On the left is a color photograph of Andrew Foster, a black man with salt and pepper hair and mustache.
Andrew Foster (1925-1987) was born in Ensley, Alabama, to WWI veteran & coal miner Wiley Foster, and homemaker Vilene.

At age eleven he contracted spinal meningitis and became totally deaf. dated photograph of Downtown Birmingham, Albama in 1923, at 2nd Avenue and 19th Street North. Buildings and signs are visible. There are a few people walking around. There are Ford cars.
Shortly after, Foster’s parents sent him to the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf-Mutes in Talladega.

For many Black deaf children, obtaining education was a struggle. Segregated schools were underfunded & pupils were encouraged to focus on vocational careers. Black and white photo of the Alabama school, a large brick building. There are some bare trees in the foreground of the photo.
The education of Black deaf children was limited to 8th grade. Ironically, lack of resources for oral education (speech & lip-reading training) meant pupils could rely on their system of signs, even as it differed from ASL.

The Alabama school would not be integrated until 1968. Photograph shows crowds of African-American and white people separated by a long counter covered with slices of bread at a barbecue
By age 17, Foster joined the Second Great Migration to Detroit for education & employment opportunities.

He applied to the Michigan School for the Deaf but was rejected, presumably on the basis of his race, though the official response was that he was not a Michigan resident. color photo postcard of the Michigan school for the deaf in Flint, a large red building. In the foreground are some trees and a Ford car.
During the war years, Foster worked in an array of odd jobs, including in military factories & as truck driver, boxer & salesman.

In 1950, he received a diploma from Detroit Institute of Commerce; a year later he got his high school diploma from a Chicago correspondence school. photograph of young andrew foster smiling at the camera and wearing a suit with a bowtie.
In 1951, Foster applied to Gallaudet College, the first university for deaf people in the United States. His application was initially rejected on account of his race – but then accepted with full scholarship.

Foster then became the first Black person accepted to Gallaudet. black and white photograph of three black men in suits. they are laughing and looking at each other while the man in the middle -- andrew foster -- is signing.
Around this time, Foster met a missionary who shared the experiences of deaf people in Jamaica & learned many deaf people outside of the US lacked education & language.

Foster decided to be a missionary & received his Masters in education & degree in divinity in 1956. another photo of foster smiling
As a Black man living in a country rife with racial discrimination, it was difficult for Foster get a job in missionary groups. His deafness was also perceived as problematic.

So Foster established the Christian Mission for Deaf Africans to teach reading, writing & Gospel. photo of andrew foster seated and smiling at the camera. he is wearing traditional patterned african clothes and cap.
Foster’s first mission was in the newly-independent Ghana, where he realized there were no provisions for educating deaf people. In 1957, he opened a school offering classes to both children and adults; within five years, 113 children were enrolled & over 300 on a waiting list. three black men and two white men standing outside and looking at a sign that says Ghana Mission School for the Deaf Mapong-Akwapen. In the background is a small brick house, presumably the school
Students received a literary education supplemented with trade & religious training. Foster taught students in American & indigenous sign languages, arguing that few children could learn by oral method alone. foster standing in front of a class pointing at a chalkboard. students are stated at their desks and paying attention
Foster’s achievements in Ghana demonstrated there was a real need for deaf education. He founded schools & trained teachers in multiple countries, including in Nigeria, Togo, Chad, Congo, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Niger, Zaire, Sengal, Gabon, Benin, Central African Republic & more. a group of black people standing in front of a building. some are dressed in african clothes. a group of black children in a class portrait.
In 1961, Foster married Berta Zuther, a deaf woman who he met the Third World Congress of the Deaf in Wiesbaden, Germany in 1959. The couple would eventually have five kids who joined them during their missionary travels: Andrew, John, Tim, Dan, and Faith. Foster and his wife Berta, a white woman, seated on a couch. they are both in traditional patterned african clothes. Fowler and Berta standing in a courthouse. they are wearing wedding clothes -- Fowler is in a black suit and berta is wearing a knee length wedding dress and holding a bouquet of flowersphoto of berta, a white woman in black and white dress, and fowler, a black man in a suit, with three biracial chidren between them. behind them is a map of the worlda shirtless foster holding a biracial child in his lap and holding a baby bottle.
The Fosters’ work resulted in the establishment of over 30 schools, churches, camps & programs for Black deaf people. In training African deaf persons, he also increased their opportunities to receive higher education at Gallaudet College & gave speaking tours across the world. foster standing in front of a classroom signing. there is a blackboard with sentences written out next to him.
On December 3, 1987 a chartered flight carried Andrew Foster & 12 people from Kenya. The plane crashed in Rwanda, killing everyone. According to his daughter Faith, Andrew Foster stopped at this deaf school in Bukavu to say farewell. They were the last to see him before he died. foster standing with some children and a white woman outside a schoola gravestone marker indicating it's placed in memory of the people who died in the plane crash. there is greenry around the stone.
As educator Michael M. Ndurumo wrote in his eulogy: “Andrew Foster is to Africa what Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is to the United States of America.”

Foster’s legacy lives on through the generation of teachers he taught and his Mission which his children have continued. color photo of andrew foster with black children and two teachers. they are all signing and standing in front of a stone building
Further Reading:

Nassozi Kiyagi & Donald Moores, “Deafness in Sub-Saharan Africa,” American Annals of the Deaf 148 (2003)

Joel Runners, “Dr. Andrew Foster,” AATD, 162 (2017)

Photos via Christian Mission for the Deaf Facebook page studio portrait photo of berta foster a white woman and andrew foster a black man. they are wearing nice clothes and looking off camera.
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