Dr. Andrew Foster, African American Deaf Educator

Christened the father of deaf education in Africa

Dr. Andrew Foster (1925-1987) is an important figure in both African American and deaf history. Foster distinguished himself by becoming the first African American to earn a bachelor's degree from Gallaudet University (then Gallaudet College) as well as the first to earn a master's from Eastern Michigan University.

It was soon after that Foster established himself as a missionary for the deaf, having founded the non-profit Christian Mission for the Deaf African in Detroit, Michigan in 1956.

Foster's outreach gradually expanded to establish schools for the deaf throughout parts of Central and West Africa.

Early Life

Foster was born in Ensley, Alabama to Wiley Foster, a coal miner, and his wife Veline. Both Foster and his brother became deaf in 1936 after bouts of meningitis cause irreparable damage their auditory nerves.

Foster was only able to get a six-grade education while in Alabama and eventually moved to Flint, Michigan to live with his aunt. It was there that he committed his life to the Christian faith and was finally able to get his high school diploma by correspondence.

Despite receiving repeated rejections from Gallaudet College because of his color, Foster persevered and was finally offered a full scholarship in 1951.

Foster's Missionary Work

After getting his bachelor's and master's degree, Foster earned a second master's from Seattle Pacific Christian College (now called Seattle Pacific University).

It was soon after founding his mission that Foster traveled to Accra, Ghana and discovered the oppression that deaf people faced there. To Foster's dismay, young deaf children were frequently abandoned by their families and forced to fend for themselves on the streets of the capital.

The experience moved Foster to open the first school for the deaf in Ghana in 1957, based 30 miles outside of the capital city in the village of Mampong-Akwapim.

This soon led to the establishment of 30 other schools in the African nations of Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, Chad, Senegal, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Burkina Faso, Burundi, Gabon, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Congo, and Guinea.

Foster met his German wife, Berta, at the Third World Congress of the Deaf in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1959. They were married in 1961 and had five children. Foster went on to earn an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Gallaudet University in 1970.

Foster's Death and Legacy

Foster's life was cut short when a plane he was traveling on crashed in Rwanda in 1987. Since Foster's death, scholars and deaf advocates alike have worked together to ensure that Foster's work was not only honored but continued in his stead.

Among the efforts, the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) spearheaded a successful campaign in 2000 to raise funds to commission a sculpture honoring Andrew Foster. Created by artist Virginia Cox, it was present to Gallaudet University in 2004. It was the first such honor bestowed upon an African American deaf person.

In association with the NBDA, Gallaudet University established the Andrew Foster Endowment Fund to provide scholarships for deaf African American college students.

Today, Foster's organization (renamed the Christian Mission for the Deaf and relocated to Aledo, Texas) continues their mission in Africa under the leadership of director Tim Foster.

Source:

Gallaudet University. "Andrew Foster - Visionary Leader." Washington, D.C.; May 2014.

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