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A Special Spotlight: William A. Caldwell

It is a great and solemn duty resting on our people and must not be shirked or overlooked.”

- William A. Caldwell, 1880

Please recognize William A. Caldwell, who was one of the first black deaf principals across the nation during the National Disability Employment month, October. He is an inspiration for the ability to run under the administration level.

William A. Caldwell was born around 1854 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He enrolled at the North Carolina for the Colored Deaf at Raleigh, North Carolina and completed his studies in 1877. At that time, one of the censuses registered him as “Wesley Caldwell” at that school. Note that on the 1870 census, two of America's first black deaf teachers were Caldwell’s schoolmates, Julius C. Garrett and Amanda Byers (later married, Johnson).

A letter was written by Andrew Jackson “Jack” Locklayer of Alabama, it reached out across the nation including Raleigh, North Carolina. Locklayer was seeking a private tutor for his two deaf biracial sons, who were kicked out of Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind because of their race in 1879. The boys were there at that school located in Talladega, Alabama for only two weeks before they were kicked out.

Through Caldwell’s alma mater, he was highly recommended as a private tutor to Locklayer deaf brothers. After tutoring the boys for a while, Caldwell published an article with a sense of urgency. I believe this article below marked the earliest note on a push for black deaf education in the state of Alabama.

A newspaper clipping, September 16, 1880, shown in “The Moulton Advertiser.” This may be the first noted clipping to push for black deaf education in Alabama. (Courtesy of retrieved by K. Brockway)

An 1880 Delinquent Census showed three deaf individuals in an Alabama household. That included Dallas “Dale” and Charles Locklayer, and William A. Caldwell. Note that the census reporter wrote “Locke” short for “Locklayer.”

Listed in the 1880 Delinquent Census “Deaf-Mutes,” was “Charles Locke,” actual surname: Locklayer, (2 weeks only at Alabama’s deaf school, 1879), “Dallas “Dale” Locke,” actual surname: Locklayer, (2 weeks only at Alabama’s deaf school, 1879) and William A. Caldwell (completed studies at North Carolina’s black deaf school, 1877). (Courtesy of retrieved by K. Brockway)

This clipping implied the funds dried up for tutoring expenses with Caldwell. Locklayer's family pleaded again for help when his sons still were deprived of deaf education. This newspaper clipping showed the date, January 1881. According to a later newspaper clipping post, Caldwell returned to Raleigh, North Carolina and taught at his alma mater after 1880.

A newspaper clipping, written January 10, 1881, in “The Moulton Advertiser” dated January 13, 1881. Locklayer stated he was denied the right to send [his deaf biracial sons] to Alabama’s deaf school. (Courtesy of retrieved by K. Brockway)

In 1897, According to the newspaper clipping The News and Observer, Caldwell took over a white deaf man, T. H. Tillinghast’s place as a teacher at Raleigh, North Carolina’s black deaf school.

Caldwell later got a position at Florida Institute for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, Colored Department, as a principal in the department of black deaf students. That same year 1905, Monroe Ingram (hailed from Kansas and first known as a black deaf baseball player) was also a principal at Oklahoma’s black deaf school. Both deaf men became the first known black deaf principals across the nation.

A newspaper clipping, written March 31, 1906, in “The Ocala Evening Star.” Along with William’s wife, both were employed at FSDB’s department of black deaf students. (Courtesy of, retrieved by K. Brockway)

At that time, note that another William A. Caldwell, a white man, was running as a principal for Florida’s department of the white deaf students! This hearing fellow, Caldwell, was at Gallaudet University and earned a Master's degree.

In 1913, note that Caldwell attempted a push for black deaf education in Arizona as he wrote a letter to Henry C. White, the deaf founder of Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, through a newspaper clipping, Arizona Daily Star. In the letter, Caldwell stated he had “many years experience in teaching the deaf.”

According to Brendan Murphy, the FSDB deaf historian, Caldwell retired in 1915. He possibly returned to North Carolina. His final living days remain a mystery. If you do know more about Caldwell, please reach out and share with the Center for the Black Deaf Studies, Gallaudet University.

Historical Archives Committee


Brendan Murphy, FSDB deaf historian

Kathleen Brockway, deaf historian

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