Andrew Foster is a very important person in Deaf history. He was the first African American Deaf person to earn a Bachelor’s Degree from Gallaudet University and is known as the “Father of the Deaf” of Africa because he founded the first school for the deaf there and went on to establish 31 more.
Andrew Foster Articles by Students
The Father of Deaf Education in Africa
by Anonymous (11/08/19)
Andrew Foster is known for establishing 32 schools for the deaf in 13 African nations, earning him a reputation as “The Father of Deaf Education in Africa”.
Andrew Foster was born on June 27, 1925 in Ensley, Alabama. Spinal meningitis left both Foster and his brother deaf when Foster was 11 years old. Being a deaf African American in the early 1900s, Foster’s opportunities for education were limited. He attended the Alabama School for the Colored Deaf in Talladega. At the time, African American education in Alabama was limited to the sixth grade.
At the age of 17, Foster moved to Flint, Michigan to live with his aunt so he could further his education. He went to the Michigan School for the Deaf through eighth grade. Foster began taking night classes and correspondence courses. He earned a diploma in business administration and accountancy from the Detroit Institute of Commerce in 1950. The following year he received his high school diploma at the age of 26. Foster applied to Gallaudet University several times, but was rejected due to his race. In 1951 he was finally accepted with a full four-year scholarship. He was the first African American to graduate from Gallaudet in 1954, with a bachelor’s degree in education. In 1955 he also became the first African American to earn a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University (then called Michigan State Normal College) in education. He received another master’s in Christian Mission in 1956 from Seattle Pacific College. He earned a total of three degrees over the course of six years.
While living with his aunt, Foster visited Bethany Pembroke Church and felt called of God to become a missionary. With encouragement from Leonard Elstad, who was the President of Gallaudet University at the time, Foster established the Christian Mission for Deaf Africans in 1956. Today his organization is called the Christian Mission for the Deaf. Foster traveled throughout the U.S., Western Europe, Canada, Mexico, and 25 African nations on speaking tours to raise money to establish deaf schools in Africa. When Foster arrived in Africa in 1957, there were only 12 schools for the deaf on the entire continent. The culture there was so oppressive of the deaf that some hearing missionaries told Foster that deaf children didn’t exist in Africa. In reality, deaf children were often hidden at home by their parents. Some deaf children in remote villages were believed to be cursed by demons, and abandoned to be eaten by wild animals.
Foster’s favorite verse was Isaiah 29:18: “In that day, the deaf will hear the words of the book.” He understood that in order for the deaf to accept Christ, they first had to be able to understand and read the Bible. Foster sought to teach the deaf how to sign, read, and write. He used the concept of total communication to teach, which used any means necessary in order for a student to learn. Total communication involved American and indigenous sign languages, fingerspelling, writing, speech reading, and visuals, among other methods. In addition to teaching students, Foster also trained teachers and educated the public and government about the needs of the deaf.
The first deaf school Foster planted was in Accra, Ghana, called the Ghana Mission School for the Deaf. It was first based in a classroom a Presbyterian Church had loaned the school. Foster later received a donation of land and a building 30 miles away in Mampong-Akwapim, where he permanently established the residential school. 80 children and some adults were serviced by the school. Foster served as the school’s director until 1965. He continued to establish schools for the deaf in Nigeria, Ibadan, and Liberia. Foster also founded eight more deaf schools in Ghana as a result of his serving on the Ghana Government Cabinet Committee in 1960. In 1959, at the Third World Congress of the Deaf in Wiesbaden, Germany, Foster met his wife, Berta. They married in 1961 and had four sons and a daughter. Foster established 29 more schools with her help. Foster’s influence in Gallaudet paved the way for generations of students from his schools to attend Gallaudet University.
Andrew Foster received many awards throughout his lifetime. In 1962, he received the Man of the Year Award from Alpha Sigma Pi. He also was presented with an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Gallaudet in 1970; the Edward Miner Gallaudet Award in 1975 from the Gallaudet College Alumni Association (GCAA); the Alumni Honor Award in 1980 from Eastern Michigan University; and the Alumni Medallion Award from Seattle Pacific University in 1982.
On December 3, 1987, a plane headed for Kenya with Foster and 11 other passengers in it crashed. No one survived. He was buried with the other passengers at the crash site. Foster had established more deaf schools than any other person in the history of deaf education. The National Black Deaf Advocates founded the Andrew Foster Endowment Fund in 2004. Gallaudet also established the Dr. Andrew Foster Merit Based Scholarship for students, and renamed its auditorium to the Andrew Foster Auditorium. The Christian Mission for the Deaf still fulfills Foster’s dream of furthering deaf education in Africa. Andrew Foster’s legacy is alive in the hundreds of deaf children who have received an education and made a place in society due to his remarkable efforts.
“Andrew Foster.” Gallaudet University, Gallaudet University, May 2014, www.gallaudet.edu/about/history-and-traditions/andrew-foster.
Cartwright, Brenda. “Living Loud: Andrew Foster – Pioneer Missionary, Educator, Mentor, and Advocate for the Deaf.” Signing Savvy, Signing Savvy, 22 Aug. 2019, https://www.signingsavvy.com/blog/331/Living+Loud:+Andrew+Foster+%e2%80%93+Pioneer+Missionary+Educator+Mentor+and+Advocate+for+the+Deaf
Fikes, Robert. “Andrew Jackson Foster, II (1925-1987).” BlackPast, BlackPast, 25 Dec. 2018, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/foster-andrew-jackson-ii-1925-1987/.
Nicholas, Darrick F. “Andrew Foster, ‘the Deaf Will Hear the Words of the Book.’” African American Registry, African American Registry, aaregistry.org/story/andrew-foster-the-deaf-will-hear-the-words-of-the-book/
by Nava Levine | August 10, 2016
Andrew Foster was born in 1925 in Ensley, Alabama. At the young age of 11, Foster contracted spinal meningitis and became deaf as a result. He was rejected from Gallaudet University multiple times merely because he was African American. However, Foster would not be dissuaded; he continued to apply until at last he was accepted and granted a full scholarship. Foster earned his degree in education there before heading to Eastern Michigan University for a master’s in education and then Seattle Pacific College for a second master’s, this time in Christian Mission.
In 1956, Foster combined his passions and established his first school, the Christian Mission for Deaf Africans in Michigan. He then began his travels, fundraising and speaking all over the world. When Foster arrived in Africa in 1957, there were only 12 deaf schools in the continent. He started the first deaf school to ever exist in West Africa. The process was difficult, starting out in a classroom in a Presbyterian Church until they were able to afford the land for a proper building. Foster served as head of school for a few years before moving on to establish both Nigeria and Liberia’s first deaf schools. In 1960 he served on the Ghana Government Cabinet Committee, and was able to use this position to start eight more deaf schools in the area.
Throughout his life, Foster established a total of 32 deaf schools in 13 African Nations. He was encouraged by the headmaster of Gallaudet University and inspired my a Jamaican missionary from his youth. Foster was faced with challenge after challenge and had to overcome adversity just to graduate high school. I chose to write about Andrew Foster because I find it inspiring that he not only faced each challenge head on, but then went on to give to others once he found success. He spent his life creating deaf schools and providing hundreds with education. This incredible determination and kindness is what makes Andrew Foster my favorite character in Deaf history.
by Eric Hines Jr. | December 15, 2016
After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Educational Psychology, I plan working as a diverse learner for students in the elementary level. Some students with hearing loss would be enrolled in my class and it is important for me to communicate with them. I would not want my students to feel ostracized from others. A famous deaf individual that interested me was Dr. Andrew Foster. He was an African American deaf educator that highly influenced his cultural history and deaf history. Dr. Foster build many schools in Africa, helping to benefit deaf students. His major contributions positively impacted many different communities in Africa.
Dr. Andrew Foster made African American history by being the first African American student to graduate from Gallaudet University. This huge accomplishment granted Dr. Foster with recognition throughout the university. He was a member of the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) and they funded a statue being built in his honor on the university. Not only was there a statue in his honor, but the Gallaudet named the auditorium after him because of the positive contributions he made. The school also introduced an educational scholarship in his honored called the Andrew Foster Scholarship.
The organization that Dr. Foster found was Christian Mission for the Deaf. The organization was primarily intended for Africans and there is a religious approach because of his beliefs. The objective of this specific organization is to support the spiritual and educational needs of deaf Africans. This is a great opportunity for deaf individuals. Dr. Andrew Foster primary goal was to make deaf people feel at ease and to be an advocate for deaf culture.
Communication From Helen Keller to Andrew Foster
by Linda | November 16, 2017
My early childhood awareness of any sign language began with the first impressions of the beautiful Hawaiian story telling with graceful dance and use of their hands. I also wondered why there was not a universal set of hand signs like Indian tribes used to cross language barriers. Then I learned about Helen Keller and marveled at her story along with Anne Sullivan’s devotion, dedication and perseverance to teach Helen beginning with a manual alphabet.
From the story of Helen I went on to read many stories of individuals who persevered through many kinds of obstacles. They were individuals who did not see themselves as disabled or unable but rather as facing obstacles, and they seemed to understand the difference between what they could not change and what they could. They brought to reality the meaning of the serenity prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
I grew up during the 50s and 60s when being Deaf, like being Black, or both, had great obstacles placed by persons who lacked understanding and were governed by their ignorance and/or prejudices. As I read of great people doing what they could in spite of those and other hardships, I also became more aware of the great people who were the advocates, teachers and mentors.
Now I have learned about so many more of these heroes. It is difficult to choose any one person as I can applaud them all. However, because I am to choose one, I will choose Andrew Foster who overcame the prejudices and attitudes toward being both Deaf and Black through those turbulent years. He then went on to teach and mentor others while starting schools in many areas of Africa. Learning about Deaf history while learning ASL has greatly added to my appreciation of the beauty of communication.
by Shaun M. | November 20, 2017
There are many who have made great contributions to the development, use and implementation of sign language and made great contributions to Deaf history but when I was searching for a person to write about, this man certainly stood out in my mind. That man would be Andrew Foster.
Andrew was born hearing and he and his brother were deafened as a result of contracting Spinal Meningitis at the age of 11 (1). This alone would have limited his educational possibilities in 1936, but add that he was of black heritage and that contributed to his struggle even more. Apparently he was not one to give up on a dream of being educated, His family made a move from Alabama to Michigan to live with an aunt (1). He finished his education through a deaf school (2) and a correspondence school (1) and then pursued college. It took some concerted effort to be able to enroll at Gallaudet College, but again he persevered and became the first black man to receive his bachelor’s degree from them. He then pursued his Master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University. Once again being the first black man to accomplish this. He pursued a second master’s degree from (what is now) Seattle Pacific University (1). All of these are huge accomplishments.
His interest was not in education alone, but also in the “whole person” . He gave his life to Christ in Michigan and was first exposed to mission work by a Jamaican missionary (3). He established a Christian Mission for Deaf Africans in 1956 (1). But seeing the oppression of the deaf children, sometimes hidden or pushed out to fend for themselves he dreamed of a school for the children (3). In Accra Ghana in 1957 he was able to persuade the public school to use their buildings after hours, and thus he started the first school for the deaf in Ghana. As word got out about his school the waiting list quickly grew and he set out to establish more schools in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, Chad and others countries until the number grew to 31 (1). First helping them to become literate he then taught them trade skills and the gospel. He fed the body, mind and soul.
In 1959 he met Berta , a deaf woman from Germany who shared his heart for missions and while living in Africa they had 5 children. In 1975 they moved to America but Andrew traveled frequently, splitting time with the Missions but also with family and raising funds. In 1987 at the age of 62 he was killed in a plane crash in Rwanda with all that were aboard. Thankfully, the mission didn’t die but continues on today. Christian Mission for the Deaf (which it is now called) has it’s headquarters in Aledo, TX. Andrew was awarded honorary degrees as well and lauded as the “Gallaudet of Africa” (3).
In closing I have to wonder how many looked at his young life, and thought what a tragedy it was to be deafened at 11. He may have felt that way himself. But his destiny was not to become an outcast to a society that already scorned him for his color. He like other famous people of history must have realized that that this event was the “providence of God” to steer him in a very different direction and by not giving up, he impacted, and his work continues to impact many, many lives for now and eternity.
- Information from Wikipedia/Andrew Foster
- Information from VeryWell.com/people-Andrew Foster
- Information from ifmyhandscouldspeak.wordpress.com/ Andrew Foster
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