Skip to content

Black ASL Project

The Black ASL Project is a language project which aims to describe the linguistic features of a variety of American Sign Language (ASL) used by African American signers and usually known as Black ASL.

The project is sponsored by Gallaudet University’s Department of Linguistics and Department of ASL and Deaf Studies and is supported in part by the Spencer Foundation and the National Science Foundation Project # BCS-0813736.

To view the project’s description as it appears in the NSF proposal, click here.

We are especially interested in recollections of your experience in schools for Black Deaf children or those of your relatives. Feel free also to send us photos to add to the website as well as links to web videos such as those on YouTube.

Black ASL project team members, back row from left to right: Pamela Baldwin, Joseph Hill, Roxanne Dummett, Carolyn McCaskill, front row Mary Herring Wright (interviewee) and Ceil Lucas.

About the Project

The objectives of this four-year project are:

  • to create a filmed corpus of conversational Black ASL as it is used in the South. The focus is on the structure and history of Southern Black ASL because that region is where the most radical segregation occurred in the education of Black and White deaf children, creating the conditions for the development of a separate language variety.
  • to provide a description of the linguistic features that make Black ASL recognizable as a distinct variety of ASL and of the history of the education of Black Deaf children.
  • to disseminate the project findings in the form of teaching materials and instructional resources.

Virginia State School for the Deaf, Hampton, VA

Collaborators on the project

Carolyn McCaskill

Project Co-Director Gallaudet University, Department of ASL and Deaf Studies

Dr. Ceil Lucas

Project Co-Director Gallaudet University, Department of Linguistics (Emerita)

Dr. Robert Bayley

Project Co-Director University of California -Davis, Department of Linguistics

Ms. Pamela Baldwin

Project Archivist and Community Representative

Ms. Roxanne Dummett

Research Assistant Gallaudet University, Department of ASL and Deaf Studies and George Mason University, ASL Instructor

Dr. Joseph Hill

Research Assistant Gallaudet University, Department of Linguistics and Associate Professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf/RIT

Dr. Randall Hogue

Kent State University, Coordinator of the ASL Program

Stephanie is looking directly at the camera smiling with trees in the background. She is standing behind a wooden cabin-like canteen building while her arms are resting on the wooden railing. Stephanie is wearing the NAD YLC 2014 t-shirt [Beige colored t-shirt with a logo of three light blubs in upper chest area: left is orange with a white outline of a book, center is light blue with a white outline of NAD]

Ms. Stephanie Johnson

Research Assistant Gallaudet University, Department of ASL and Deaf Studies

Ms. TaWanda Barkley

Research Assistant Gallaudet University, Department of ASL and Deaf Studies

Ms. Anika Stephen

Research Assistant Web Administrator Gallaudet University, Department of Linguistics

Ms. Mercedes Hunter

Research Assistant Web Administrator Gallaudet University, Department of Interpreting

Sites Visited

In order of the year in which the schools for Black Deaf children were founded:

  • North Carolina (1869)
  • Texas (1887)
  • Arkansas (1887)
  • Alabama (1892)
  • Virginia (1909)
  • Louisiana (1938)
At each site, groups of signers “over 55”, i.e. attended school during segregation and groups of signers “under 35”, i.e. attended integrated schools, have been filmed in free conversation, structured interviews and lexical and narrative elicitation. To see examples of our data click on Data Collection at the bottom of the page.

Data Collection Sites

The Black ASL Project has collected data from attendees of these schools:
Madison Street School in Little Rock, AR, 1960s

Presentations

Since the project began in July of 2007, we have done a number of presentations at a variety of conferences. Here you will find the name of the conferences and a representative power point handout for each topic.
NWAV 37 Houston, November 7, 2008

Back row l-to-r: Joseph Hill, Bob Bayley and Randall Hogue
Front row l-to-r: Pam Baldwin, Carolyn McCaskill and Ceil Lucas

LSA 2011 Pittsburgh, January 8, 2011

Back row l-to-r: Jeff Davis, Bob Bayley and Joseph Hill
Front row l-to-r: Ceil Lucas, Carolyn McCaskill and Jean Bergey

Download
Download 1 | Download 2
Download
  • Universita di Venezia Ca Foscari, November 2009, Venice, Italy
Download
  • The National Museum of Language, May 2011, College Park, MD
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, September 2011, Washington, DC
  • Georgia State University, September 29-30, 2011
  • Georgia Perimeter College, September 29-30, 2011
  • Linguistics Department of Gallaudet University, 30th year celebration, October 21, 2011
  • Gallaudet University Homecoming: Alumni of Color, October 22, 2011
  • NWAV 40, Georgetown University, October 28, 2011
  • Teacher’s College Columbia University, New York City, February 3, 2012
  • Benjamin Branch Library, Greensboro NC, February 16, 2012
  • Deaf Studies Today Utah Valley University: Orem, Utah April 12-14, 2012
  • North Carolina RID Conference, Wilmington NC, June 23, 2012
  • North Carolina ASLTA Conference, Whiteville NC, November 2, 2012
  • New Mexico School for the Deaf, Santa Fe New Mexico, January 18, 2013
  • Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for Deaf, Rochester NY, February 7, 2013
  • Madonna University, Livonia Michigan, February 22 & 23, 2013
  • Union County College, Cranfield Nee Jersey, February 23, 2013
  • University of Pennsylvania, February 28, 2013
  • Swarthmore College, March 1, 2013
  • Columbia College, Chicago Illinois, April 12, 2013
  • National Alliance of Black Interpreters (NAOBI), April 2011, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC
  • Gallaudet University campus community, December 2010, April 2011, Washington, DC
  • Northeastern University, Boston University, October 2011, Boston MA

Now Available

The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL:
Its History and Structure

Carolyn McCaskill, Ceil Lucas, Robert Bayley, and Joseph Hill

Signing Black in America is a documentary related to the Black ASL Project. It was produced by the Language & Life Project at NC State University. For more information, to purchase a DVD, and to watch the film, visit talkingblackinamerica.org/signing-black-in-america.

  • Go to the “screenings” tab and there is a direct link to YouTube. The film is 27 minutes long and fully captioned and voiced over.

Dr. Carolyn McCaskill

Project Co-Director Gallaudet University, Department of ASL and Deaf Studies

Carolyn McCaskill, attended the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf in Talladega and was in the first integrated class in 1968 at the Alabama School for the Deaf. She received her MA degree in Counseling with the Deaf, BA in Psychology and Ph.D in Administration and Supervision from Gallaudet University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the ASL & Deaf Studies Department at Gallaudet University since 1996. Carolyn has conducted numerous seminars and workshops related to Black Deaf people.

Ceil Lucas

Project Co-Director Gallaudet University, Department of Linguistics (Emerita)

Ceil Lucas. Ph.D. was raised in Guatemala City and Rome, Italy. She is Professor of Linguistics at Gallaudet University, where she has taught since 1982. She is a sociolinguist with broad interests in the structure and use of sign languages. She has co-authored and edited many articles and books, including The Linguistics of American Sign Language, 4th ed. (with Clayton Valli and Kristin Mulrooney, 2005)

Robert Bayley

Project Co-Director University of California -Davis, Department of Linguistics

Robert Bayley is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Davis. He has conducted research on variation in English, Spanish, ASL, and Chinese, as well as ethnographic research in Latino communities in California and Texas. His books include Language as cultural practice: Mexicanos en el norte (2002, with Sandra Schecter) and Sociolinguistic variation: Theories, methods, and applications (2007, ed. with Ceil Lucas).

Pamela Baldwin

Project Archivist and Community Representative

Pamela Baldwin enrolled in the Madison Street School for Black Deaf students in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1964 and transferred to Arkansas School for the Deaf in 1966, graduating in 1978.

She holds an AAS in Office Technology from Gallaudet University and has worked at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and currently works at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC.

Roxanne Dummett

Research Assistant Gallaudet University, Department of ASL and Deaf Studies and George Mason University, ASL Instructor

Roxanne Dummett-King was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York City and is the daughter of a Guyanese immigrant mother. She attended both Day school for the Deaf and mainstream school in NYC. Roxanne received BA degree in Social Work in 1998 from Gallaudet University. She received an MA in ASL and Deaf Studies in May of 2008.

Joseph Hill

Research Assistant Gallaudet University, Department of Linguistics and Associate Professor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf/RIT

Joseph Hill is a doctoral student in the Department of Linguistics at Gallaudet University. He was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH with the family of deaf and hard-of-hearing siblings and a hard-of-hearing mother. On December 2001, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Systems Analysis from Miami University in Oxford. He began graduate studies in Linguistics at Gallaudet University in 2002. He graduated with a master’s degree in 2004 and is currently completing his doctoral dissertation entitled “Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community.”

Randall Hogue

Kent State University, Coordinator of the ASL Program

Randall Hogue comes from a long line of Pennsylvanians but now calls Maryland home. He graduated from Youngstown State University with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Linguistics and Psychology. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the Linguistics Department at Gallaudet University. Randall teaches linguistics part time at several area universities. He is a freelance interpreter and serves as webmaster and technical aid for the project.

Admissions Requirements

Hearing Undergraduate