Monday, February 26, 2018

Ideal's Saralee Negro Doll 1951-1953 "An Ambassador of Goodwill"

Saralee Negro Doll (1951-1953) is an 18-inch (actual size) vinyl doll with cloth body, modeled after the likeness of African American children.  The above doll is shown with its original box (a rare find!).  Note the given name was "Saralee Negro Doll" and Saralee is one word.  Photo courtesy of Black Legacy Images.

Originally published in Vol. 1, Issue 1 of Black Doll-Ezine (BDE) in February 2002, the below article in its original form remains online at the BDE Angelfire website.  Because that site is infected with pop-ups that may be harmful if clicked, I no longer share links to BDE articles.  For secure-reading purposes, an updated version of the BDE article on Saralee is shared below.

A closer look at the box label reveals the slogan:  "More Than Just a Doll... An Ambassador of Good Will."  To the right is stamped the number 3273 (possibly the stock number) and the word, BLUE is above the number.  Saralee's white organdy dress and bonnet were trimmed with either yellow or blue.  (Photo courtesy of Pinterest.)

In 1951, when the Saralee Negro doll entered the market, this historical doll, created by Sara Lee Creech of Belle Glade, Florida, manufactured by Ideal Toy Corporation, would be the first play doll of its kind. It was designed specifically to be a "quality doll" with true-to-life black features, not just a white doll colored brown.  Not only does the Saralee doll possess a unique history of what sparked its creation, but its marketing campaign is also quite interesting.

According to the book, Florida Pathfinders, after witnessing two little black girls playing with white dolls outside a Florida post office as they waited for their mother, Sara Lee Creech was forced to wonder why these girls and others like them did not have quality dolls in their likeness. In chapter 3 of Virginia Lynn Moylan's book, Zora Neale Hurston's Final Decade (University Press of Florida, 2011), she provides more details about Saralee's creation, which was conveyed by Sara Lee Creech.

The idea for the doll sprang from an epiphany following a conversation [Creech] had with Louise Taylor, a black mother, who complained that the only quality dolls available for her daughters were white.  A few days later, Creech noticed two black girls playing with white dolls and was struck by the contrast.  Convinced that black children needed and deserved a doll that would reflect the physical beauty of their own race, she decided to look into the matter.

"In 1949, she launched a campaign to create what her friend, Zora Neale Hurston (writer, folklorist, and anthropologist) described as an 'anthropologically correct' doll." [Florida Pathfinders]  According to Moylan, Hurston suggested to Mrs. Creech to name the doll Saralee.

Scan from Moylan's book illustrates Sara Creech, Maxeda von Hess, Walter White (the then executive director of the NAACP), former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Ralph Bunche (politician/1950 Nobel Prize for Peace winner) as they examine models of the Saralee doll.  According to Moylan, the various models were created to determine the proper color for the doll.  Plans to produce siblings for Saralee were discussed; however, the Ideal doll company decided it would not be cost-effective to manufacture siblings.  (Other dolls that bear Ideal's marks that use similar head molds as Saralee were, in fact, made as illustrated and discussed later.)

Additional doll heads are examined by Mrs. Roosevelt and theatrical producer, John Golden, in a scan from Judith Izen's Collectors Guide to Ideal Dolls:  Identification and Value Guide (Collector Books, 1994).

Ms. Creech initially conducted a one-woman mission to create the Saralee doll. Later, with the help of several prominent community leaders on the local and national level (former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and political scientist Ralph Bunche, just to name a few), her mission was set in motion. Ms. Creech was also graciously assisted by Mrs. Roosevelt's speech coach, Maxeda von Hess, who was able to persuade Shelia Burlingame, a sculptor, to assist in the Saralee Negro doll-creation project.

Zora Neale Hurston was one of the biggest supporters of this doll project.  According to Moylan's book, "After seeing the photos [of the doll head castings], Hurston suggested a name for the doll, Saralee, after its creator, and advised Creech to show the models to 'well-known and influential Negroes' who could help the project along."  Hurston went on to introduced Creech to several of her "illustrious friends and acquaintances."  It was Hurston's friend and poet, Georgia Douglas Johnson, who dubbed the doll "a little ambassador of peace."  

The following quote (circa 1950/1951), included in Moylan's book, is from a letter of praise Hurston wrote to Creech after viewing photographs of castings created for the doll.
Please allow me to say how pleased I am that you let me see pictures of the Negro dolls that you plan to put on the market... The thing that pleased me most... was that you, a White girl, should have seen into our hearts so clearly, and sought to meet our longing for understanding of us as we really are, and not as some would have us.  That you have not insulted us by a grotesque caricature of Negro children, but conceived something of real Negro beauty.
—Zora Neale Hurston

As illustrated in the two previous photos and in one additional photo below, several different head molds were created.  The other head sculpts were created for two reasons:   1) to determine the doll's complexion and 2) to create siblings for Saralee.  A big brother, a big sister, and a little brother were planned. Chestnut brown was the color chosen for Saralee's complexion.  Unfortunately, only a little brother has been documented.  The fate of the other ethnically correct sculpted heads is uncertain.

Saralee's all-vinyl Little Brother is approximately 14-inch tall, shown above in a photograph courtesy of Gerald Corbin.

In a side-by-side photo of Saralee (left) and her brother (right), the subtle differences in their head sculpts are apparent.  Little Brother's face is wider and his hairline forms a well-defined widow's peak.  This "brother" has a cloth body like Saralee whereas the brother shown above is all-vinyl. Note that either of these two siblings could have been marketed as a girl or a boy. Their current owners identify the siblings as male. Photo courtesy of Black Legacy Images.

In a promotional photograph from December 11, 1951, noted opera singer, Leontyne Price, poses with the Saralee Negro doll.  Photo Source:  The Internet.

Jet magazine ad for Saralee was published in the December 6, 1951, issue.

In addition to receiving promotional backing from prominent African Americans and other prestigious individuals who realized the doll's importance to the African American community and to the doll world at large, Saralee Negro Doll was advertised in major publications.  The above Jet magazine advertisement is an example of the doll's print promotion.  

Saralee was featured on pages 61 and 62 in the December 17, 1951, Life magazine article, "Doll for Negro Children."

Saralee's debut was published in a full spread in the December 17, 1951, issue ofLife magazine.  Images of some of the children, whose facial features were studied before the doll was sculpted, are included at the top of the article on page 61 with images of Saralee's profile and full face at the bottom of that page.

Closer look at some of the children whose facial features were studied prior to the creation of the Saralee Negro Doll

On page 62, the final page of the Life article, are images of Sara Lee Creech and sculptress Sheila Burlingame.  Head sculpts of the proposed family of Saralee dolls and a final photo of a little girl admiring the produced Saralee Negro doll conclude the article.  Scans of these are shown next.

The above captions read:  CREATOR, Miss Creech, sells insurance, works in interracial group.  SCULPTRESS Sheila Burlingame holds one of the finished head models.
This photo is captioned:  FULL FAMILY will include "Little Miss" (top), "Little Brother" (center left), "Little Sister" (bottom).  To date, only a toddler girl and a toddler boy (that might be a girl dressed as a boy) and a baby brother have been documented as manufactured siblings of Saralee.

The Life magazine caption reads:  IN USE:  baby doll delights 5-year-old Judy Lyons, who immediately began feeding it Pablum and cuddling it, then named it Diane after a white playmate.

Several toy catalogs also featured the Saralee doll.

Saralee was offered for sale for $5.99 in a 1952 Alden's catalog.

Saralee also appeared in the Sears 1952 Christmas Wishbook where the doll's name was incorrectly spelled as two words, Sara Lee.  Sears also elected to use the word "colored" instead of the doll's given name, Saralee Negro Doll.

In the early 1990s, my black-doll interest reverted from modern artist dolls to vintage dolls with a heavy focus on dolls made during the decade of my birth. Reading either Black Dolls, an Identification and Value Guide, book 1 or Collector's Guide to Ideal Dolls, book 1 led to my initial discovery of the Saralee Negro doll. Afterward, an immediate mission was launched to acquire the doll for my personal collection. Pre-Internet access, with reliance solely on monthly doll-for-sale periodicals, delayed locating the doll, but eventually, the mission was accomplished.  

My beloved Saralee entered my collection in the early 1990s.  She wears her original tagged white organdy dress with blue embroidered trim, and original socks and shoes.  Her bonnet is replaced.

Reproduction Saralee by Ashton-Drake

In 2002, the little doll with a proud history was reproduced by the Ashton-Drake Galleries of Niles, Illinois. The new, 17-inch Saralee was reproduced in porcelain from sculptor Sheila Burlingame's original mold.

"Just like the original doll, Saralee's adorable face was specially sculpted to look like a real African American baby with brown eyes, an open/closed mouth, and molded, painted black hair.  The reproduction Saralee is wearing a replica of her original, yellow-ribbon-trimmed white organdy dress with matching bonnet and panties.  Little white lace-up shoes and white socks accent her outfit."  The reproduction Saralee retailed for $99.99.  (Reproduction description, courtesy of Davis Enterprizes.)

Saralee Negro Doll, 1951 by Ideal is posed with Ashton-Drake's 2002 reproduced porcelain doll.

Collectors were excited about the reproduction doll and eagerly anticipated adding it to their collections.  Like the original 1951 Saralee, the porcelain reproduction is now only available on the secondary market.  The reproduction is worth having, but nothing is better than owning an original Saralee Negro Doll and her quite elusive little brother.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Once Bullied, Now an Inspiring Philanthropist

Eleven-year-old Zoe Terry was once bullied because of her skin color and "puffy" hair.  She now inspires other girls to love the skin they're in by donating Black dolls to needy girls.  Zoe is also in the process of creating her own doll line.  As a result of her appearance on Good Morning America, she now has a mentor:  Debbie Sterling of GoldieBlox.

Direct link to Good Morning America video
Link to text

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Melanites Jaylen Action Pal

Melanites Jaylen Action Pal Celebrates Brown Boyhood

Approximately a year ago, an interview with the founder and CEO of Melanites was published on my sister blog, Ebony-Essence of Dolls in Black.  I was so impressed with the company's plan to create a line of dolls that celebrate brown boyhood that I immediately preordered their first Action Pal, Jaylen.

Jaylen arrived on Thursday, February 15, 2018, along with a brochure of other products, a 20% discount code off my next Melanites purchase, and a personal handwritten note from Melanites founder and CEO, Jennifer Pierre.

Before removing Jaylen from his colorful box, photos of the side panels and back of the box were taken:

"Celebrating Brown Boyhood" is on the left panel. An illustration of Jaylen appears on the back of the box along with introduction text that reads:

Meet Jaylen, a curious thinker who is always solving problems and creating new adventures!  Melanites Action Pals are the perfect companion for any adventure.

Additional information about the company, its mission*, and website address are on the right side panel of the box.  *"Our mission is to empower children to dream big, stand tall, and live out their childhood."

In the above photo, Jaylen remains attached to the light blue box liner that is decorated with several light bulb illustrations (because he is a thinker).  Removing him from the box liner only required snipping the plastic ties at his neck and ankles, which were protected by a thin layer of foam.

Jaylen is all vinyl.  He stands approximately 17 inches.  If positioned correctly, he can stand without the assistance of a doll stand.  He is dressed in a blue and gray striped T-shirt that has a Velcro closure in back, khaki cargo shorts, and red low-top sneakers.

Jaylen has brown acrylic stationary eyes with upper eyelashes.  His black-wigged hair forms soft curls; it is short on the sides and longer on top.

Closer look at Jaylen's hair
Jaylen is string jointed with articulation at the elbows, wrists, and knees.  His feet measure 2 inches x 1-1/8 inches.  His shoes measure 2-1/4 inches x 1-1/2 inches.  His toenails and fingernails are tipped with white paint.
Closer look at white-paint-tipped fingernails

A size comparison with 18-inch Journey Girls, Taryn, illustrates Jaylen's more slender body and slightly shorter height. 

Overall assessment:  Jaylen is a very well-made, handsome boy that will withstand boy play.  The production doll looks slightly different than the prototype:  the eyes are larger and the face narrower than the prototype's. I appreciate his medium brown all-vinyl construct and string jointed articulation.  I also admire the company's vision to create brown boy "action pals" to allow brown boys to see themselves in a toy and inspire them to use their imaginations to become problem solvers and "thinkers" like Jaylen.  Boys of all ethnicities will love Jaylen and girls will love him, too!

For more information about Melanites, click here, or to purchase Jaylen, click here.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

In Loving Memory of Ms. Phyllis C. Hunter

I need to place images in front of African American girls in order for them to see themselves in the best light. - Phyllis C. Hunter, Founder, Dolls Like Me Museum - Sugar Land, Texas. (Photo from Ms. Hunter's Facebook page)

Sadly, I was informed by private email that Phyllis C. Hunter, founder of the Black Like Me  Museum in Sugar Land, Texas, passed on February 4, 2018.  The reader reminded me that Ms. Hunter's museum was featured on this blog in June 2011.

Hunter was an avid collector of black dolls; but according to the reader, "She was not only known for Barbies (which I collect) but Dolls and Black Americana as a whole (cookie jars, cookbooks, memorabilia of all kinds, stamps, African artifacts, quilts...)"

She combined her love for educating and doll collecting by teaching Black history with her dolls and by founding the Black Like Me Museum where groups could tour the collection.

Beyond her love for Black dolls and Black Americana, Ms. Hunter described herself on Twitter as a "Reading and Literacy Educator.  Author.  Speaker.  Consultant.  Book Lover. Collector of all things African American."

The title of her book, It's Not Complicated!  What I Know For Sure About Helping Our Students of Color Become Successful Readers, aptly describes her passion for educating and promoting literacy in children of color.

According to the blog reader, who knew Ms. Hunter personally,  "I know I am definitely a smarter collector because of her and her passion was contagious!  Also, I was at her home when I went to Texas for the funeral and she had your books with her items.  I took a picture... So she was definitely a FAN of yours! She would always say... READ about what you LOVE and COLLECT and she did just that!"

Reading through the condolences on Ms. Hunter's Facebook page led me to photos of some of her dolls and sentiments left by loving friends:

AKA Barbie used as a lovely table centerpiece
Dolls by Christine Orange

Videos of Ms. Hunter's tireless work to promote literacy can be viewed here.

Rest in perfect peace, Ms. Hunter; your work here was well done.


Read the article that inspired my original post about Ms. Hunter's Black Like Me Museum here.

(Thank you, Ms. Jefferson, for informing me of Ms. Hunter's demise.)

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Ohmydollin's Interview with Rosa Parks

The following post is one of several Black History Month installments shared with my doll group by one of our many creative members.  Ohmydollin (on Instagram) describes this as her interview with the incomparable ROSA PARKS which was conducted at Madame Tussaud's wax museum in Washington, D.C.

OHMYDOLLIN: What did you hope to accomplish when getting on that bus πŸšŒ?
MRS. PARKS: All I was doing was trying to get home from work. I was just trying to let them know how I felt about being treated as a human πŸ‘©πŸ½‍πŸ’ΌπŸ‘©πŸΎ‍πŸ’Όbeing.
OHMYDOLLIN: What made you not give up your seat πŸ’Ί that particular day?
MRS. PARKS: I had given up my seat πŸ’Ίbefore, but this day, I was especially tired. Tired πŸ€¦πŸΎ‍♀️from my work as a seamstress, and tired from the ache πŸ’” in my heart . Arrest me for sitting on a πŸšŽ? You may do that.
OHMYDOLLIN: Mrs. Parks, did you realize that your actions would result in social change ⚖️?
MRS. PARKS: At the time I was arrested I had no πŸ€·πŸ½‍♀️idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in. πŸ‘¨πŸΎ‍πŸ­πŸ‘©πŸΎ‍πŸ³πŸ‘©πŸ½‍πŸŽ“πŸ‘¨πŸΏ‍πŸ”§
OHMYDOLLIN: Were you afraid of what would happen if you did not comply with the bus πŸšdriver πŸ‘¨πŸΌ‍✈️?
MRS. PARKS: I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; πŸ’ͺ🏽knowing what must be done does away with fear.
OHMYDOLLIN: Mrs. Parks, how would you like to be remembered πŸ€”?

MRS. PARKS: I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free … so other people would be also free . Whatever my individual desires were to be free , I was not alone. There were many others who felt the same way. πŸ‘¨πŸΎ‍πŸ­πŸ‘¨πŸΏ‍πŸ”§πŸ‘©πŸΎ‍πŸ³πŸ‘©πŸ½‍πŸŽ“

And then she invited me to take my rightful seat πŸ’Ί on the πŸš. And when I hesitated she told me:
"You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right. Stand for something or you will fall for anything. Today’s mighty oak πŸŒ³is yesterday’s nut πŸ₯œ that held its ground."

πŸ’ͺ🏽 So, I got on the πŸš and took my πŸ’Ί! And even though they kicked my seat and yelled at me...I stayed!! 

(Note: this Madame Tussaud's museum display really does simulate the kicking and yelling πŸ˜²)


In lieu of using pictures of her face on Instagram, Ohmydollin selected a Barbie face that actually looks like her. The body, however, is hers.

#rosaparks #blackhistorymonth

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