July 24, 1914 – Birthday of Kenneth Bancroft Clark, and The Black Doll Study

Kenneth Clark was a psychologist, educator, and social reformer who dedicated his life to the cause of racial justice. At Howard University, he led demonstrations against segregation in Washington, D.C. He also met his future wife, fellow psychology student Mamie Phipps, who became his key collaborator. They moved to New York to attend Columbia University, where, in 1940, Clark became the first African American to receive a doctorate in psychology from that institution. Two years later, Clark became the first black permanent professor at City College of New York, where he remained until his retirement in 1975.

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According to Columbia University’s “Notable New Yorkers,” “Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted many studies on the effects of racism on child development, finding that segregation was psychologically damaging to both black and white children. In one famous study, they found that black children as young as 3 years old preferred white dolls to black dolls. This study was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregated education unconstitutional. Clark also traveled the country, serving as an expert witness for the NAACP in its legal struggles against segregation in the 1950s.”

Clark authored many books on the effects of prejudice on children. He and his wife founded a clinic for child development in Harlem, and in the sixties, Clark helped establish the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a project that influenced President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program. Kenneth Clark died at his home in 2005.

Fifty years after psychologist Kenneth Clark conducted his doll test, a 17-year-old filmmaker redid the social experiment and learned that not much has changed. ABC News reported that in 2005, Kiri Davis, a high-school teen, sat with 21 black kids in New York and found that 16 of them liked the white doll better.

It is still not easy to get ethnic dolls that are not just tan counterparts to white dolls. A couple of companies have made a start. Dolls Like Me has some beautiful multicultural dolls, books, and gifts.

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