History of ASB

  • AIDB founder Joseph Henry Johnson relied heavily on family members to open and sustain Alabama's new school for the deaf, especially during the troubled Civil War and Reconstruction years. The School for the Deaf was just barely two years old when the war began. While Johnson volunteered for duty in Florida and Tennessee, his family, including his wife, siblings and other relatives, educated and cared for the school's students. His brother-in-law, Reuben Asbury, was the steward and handled the school's finances, a critical role for a young and vulnerable institution at a time when many Southern educational institutions did not survive. 

    When Dr. Johnson returned to ASD in the spring of 1862, Asbury resigned to join the war. He became an officer in Company F of the 51st Alabama Regiment and a year later was captured by Union troops in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Asbury spent almost a year in prison camps on Johnson's Island off the Ohio shore near Lake Erie and at Point Lookout in Maryland. His eyesight was impaired as a result of his imprisonment and he was honorably discharged in May 1864.

    Legend has it that while Asbury was imprisoned, his cell was a darkened cave and during these months of almost complete darkness he vowed that he were eventually released he "would dedicate his life to those individuals whose blindness trapped them in perpetual darkness." Upon his return to Talladega, Asbury approached Johnson and the Board of Trustees with his idea for a school for the blind. They had already received requests from parents of blind children and agreed contingent upon funding. 

    In 1866, a request was made to the Govenor for a $2,500 appropriation to begin a class for the blind and on February 18, 1867 a bill was passed creating the Alabama Academy for the Blind -- but no funds were allocated. Johnson would have to fund the new school with his existing Institute appropriation. He was furious but after lengthy discussion with the Board of Trustees the decision was made to use funds set aside for building and maintenance to begin the new school. On April 1, 1867, the first class of blind students enrolled at the Academy for the Blind in Manning Hall with Reuben Asbury as their teacher and his wife, Cassandra, as matron. 

    While Johnson pursued funding, Asbury had been traveling the countryside by horseback during the winter months to recruit students for the new school. He also made a 175-mile tripto Macon, Georgia, to study teaching methods at the Georgia Academy for the Blind. Funds were so scarce in those early days that four donated Braille copies of the New Testament and a dictionary were used as textbooks and there were no raised maps or globes. The board did approve $150 to purchase tools to be used in making brooms for vocational training. 

    Educational and social programs were not a priority of the Reconstruction-era Legislature and it was 1870 before a $5,000 appopriation was added for the Academy for the Blind. Music and sewing were added to the curriculum and Asbury's efforts at recruiting brought enrollment at the Institute to 70, 16 at the school for the blind. 

    In 1875, Reuben Asbury left AIDB and moved to Greenville, South Carolina. George Cruikshank replaced him as teacher but for the next several years, Johnson thought about ways to provide a separate campus for the school. He consulted with others around the country and agreed with Asbury's earlier recommendation that the programs for the deaf and the blind should be separate. In 1882, he hired Josiah Graves as field agent and teacher for the blind and Graves immediately began to push for a separate campus.

    Two years later, the Board heard glowing reports of the instructional progress of the school and enrollment had reached a new high of 34 students. They approved a plan to move blind students to a new campus -- funds were secured to begin construction and a three-story building was erected with gas lights and city water. In 1888, the Alabama Academy for the Blind had a new home on South Street. 

    Today Asbury would be pleased that ASB students have unlimited options and potential to overcome the obstacles of vision loss as ASB serves students through campus and public school programs statewide.

    ASB sets and achieves high standards in academics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, students follow a curriculum based on the Alabama State Department of Education's course of study and must pass the state's high school graduation exam to receive an academic or advanced diploma. Occupational diplomas are also available. 

    Championship wrestling, track and cheerleading are available as well as music, band, drama, leadership development clubs and extracurricular activities. Mobility and assistive technology training accentuate an expanded program in independent living. 

    Dormitory renovation was a priority for the ASB campus in 2008, a new Independent Living Center was dedicated as the program expanded to include summer training in daily living skills, and the $2-millon Eugene Landreth Music Center was dedicated Named for the alumnus and teacher who organized ASB's first band in 1934, the Center contains a band hall, practice rooms, piano practice rooms, a piano lab for group keyboard lessons, and a state-of-the-art recording studio.

    The Instructional Resource Center for the Blind located on the ASB campus provides Braille, large print and talking book materials and services throughout the state and has reached thousands of children and adults through this effort.