Andrew Foster, A Trailblazer For Deaf Schools





How could we not choose the remarkable Andrew Jackson Foster, II (1925-1987) as someone we want to spotlight with the astounding achievements and contributions he made during his time on Earth.


Even though he was born in America, Mr. Foster earned the moniker “Father of Deaf Education in Africa” and is legendary worldwide among both the Deaf and hearing communities for having established 32 Deaf schools across 13 African nations. He also helped to influence the growth and use of sign language throughout Africa by educating the public and advising government officials, all of which raised opportunities for Deaf Africans.


Mr. Foster was born in Alabama and became Deaf when he was 11 years old. He went to Alabama School for Negro Deaf-Mutes and Blind but was only able to receive an education up to 8th grade since the school did not offer a high school program. To continue his education, he moved North, and tried to attend Michigan School for the Deaf but was rejected because he was not a resident of Michigan. He then went on to night school while working during the daytimes and achieved a diploma in accountancy and business administration from the Detroit Institute of Commerce followed by a high school diploma from the American School in Chicago.


He had attempted to apply to Gallaudet University and was rejected several times. He persisted and was finally accepted and became the first Black Deaf to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Education when he was 29 years old. He quickly went on to become the first Black Deaf to receive a master’s in Education from Eastern Michigan University and a second master’s in Divinity Education from Seattle Pacific Christian College receiving the last 3 degrees within 6 years! He, later, received an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Gallaudet University.


He refined his calling as a missionary to focus on advocating for the educational needs of Deaf Africans after learning that there were only 12 schools available across the entire continent of Africa. He understood that if Deaf were to accept Christ through his missionary work, they needed to be able to understand and read the bible, thus a need to teach them how to sign, read and write. He founded the Christian Mission for the Deaf as an American nonprofit organization with a mission to bring communication, literacy, and spirituality to Deaf Africans as well as provide some basic job training/ trade skills.


Foster is standing ovber two students, one dark skinned, one light skinned, as they look at a globe. They are in a classroom and a map of the world is behind them.
Foster teaching students at the Kendall School in 1953. Image courtesy of Gallaudet University.

First, he began by going on speaking tours throughout America, Canada, Mexico, Western Europe, and African nations to raise money for the cause where he shared his initial observations that the lives of Deaf Africans were very oppressive with no formal signed language in existence. He then started his first program in Ghana where he was able to convince school officials to allow him to use a church facility after-hours for Deaf students.


Over five years there, he established a permanent residential school, the Ghana Mission School for the Deaf, with 113 students in attendance and 300 on the waitlist! He then went on to set up more schools in other African countries and established a teacher-training program and Deaf Churches as well. Also, through Mr. Foster’s efforts, Deaf African students who graduated from his schools were accepted as students at Gallaudet University helping many find opportunities to live productive lives.

His time was cut short when he died in a plane crash in Rwanda, but the impact he left is immeasurable and timeless. Not only did he become a shining beacon of hope and inspiration among Black Deaf, he also exemplified the Deafhood spirit by recognizing Deaf people’s right to exist free of oppression and gain an education. He didn’t just stop there with the recognition, he went and did something about it!

Andrew Foster is truly one of our greatest Deaf visionary leaders!




Edit 11/23/21: Clarified reason for not being able to attend Michigan School for the Deaf due to not being a state resident. Thank you to Foster's daughter, Faith Haynes, for the clarification.

Edit 11/23/21: Modified statement to clarify that Foster was not the first Black Deaf student at Gallaudet University but was the first to graduate with a bachelor's degree. Gratitude to Kathleen Brockway for bringing this to our attention.


Sources

1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Foster_(educator)

2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij3d-GjqTyA (Seeds of Hope documentary)

3) https://www.gallaudet.edu/about/history-and-traditions/andrew-foster/

4) https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/foster-andrew-jackson-ii-1925-1987/




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